Roll To The Middle

The college Zach and I attended was a close knit family. There were only 30 or so students in our graduating class, around 250 students total. Because the community was so small, all of the professors lived on campus and we had close relationship with them and their families. All of the professors' kids loved Zach. He was so cool with his skateboard, his long hair, skinny jeans and guitar. One little boy in particular, Ethan, absolutely adored him. Our first semester in college, Zach and I were just friends. We started dating the last week of school, but even when we were "just friends", we were absolutely inseparable. You didn't see one without the other. We just liked hanging out. Best friends status, you know? Well, one day I was eating lunch in the cafeteria with another friend when little Ethan came running over and asked me where Zach was. When I told him I wasn't sure, that I hadn't seen him for a few hours, he had this odd look on his face; a mix of confusion and disappointment. And then he said, "But you're his bookmark!" I'm sorry, his what? I had no idea what he was talking about. I asked him what that meant and his answer is still, to this day, one of my favorite things anyone has ever said about Zach and I.

"You're his bookmark! Whenever I need to find Zach, I just find you and then I'll find Zach."

His bookmark. What a sweet and brilliant observation. We weren't even a couple yet and I was his bookmark. Zach and I have always been that way. We just dig each other. We like to be around each other. He makes me laugh and I make him groan and there is no one in the world either one of us would rather be hanging out with than each other. I choose him every time.

But what happens when I'm not his bookmark anymore? When his bookmark can't even find him? We got a little taste of that a few months ago and it was ... scary. To say the least.

It would take too long to explain what brought us to the place we were a few months ago, so I'm going to save that for my future book. For now, I'll just say, that I woke up one day and realized that Zach and I were not on the same page and we hadn't been in  a long time. We still had a great relationship, still had great communication, but there were a few pieces missing and we were both refusing to acknowledge them. I was the first to call it out. I sat down across from him at the table one morning and said, "We're not on the same page anymore and it scares me."

That began a long series of conversations. Every day. We talked. And we talked. And we talked. Well. I talked. He listened and processed and barely said a thing. I felt the distance between us. Things were great in our relationship otherwise. We still went on dates, made each other laugh, did the married folk dance, but there was this unspoken thing. This piece of him that I felt like I was losing. A piece that I didn't "get" anymore. A piece that I wasn't sure he even got anymore. I was scared. I couldn't tell you what I was scared of, just that the fear was there. Fear of the unknown, I guess.

There's this song by Sara Groves called "Roll To The Middle". She sings about her and her husband's really big fight and how they said things they didn't mean and called each other names and all things married people do to hurt each other. The lyrics say:

 "All the complicated wars, they end pretty simple. Here when the lights go out, we roll to the middle. No matter how my pride resists, no matter how this wall feels true, no matter how I can’t be sure that you’re gonna roll in too. No matter what, no matter what, I’m going to reach for you."

It's funny how you listen to a song long before you ever need its wisdom, but somehow it stays with you and becomes a part of you. Those words have carried our relationship this far. Not in and of themselves, of course, but when things get bad, we both think of that song. I often ask myself after a big fight, "Am I going to roll to the middle tonight?"

In good times, and especially in bad, I'll roll to the middle.

Even when I feel lonely, and hurt, and confused.

I'll roll to the middle.

Even when he doesn't deserve it. .

I'll roll to the middle.

Even when I'm the one to blame and I'm not sure he'll meet me there.

I'll roll to the middle.

Especially when I'm afraid I'm going to lose him. When I'm losing myself. When I feel like we don't know each other anymore.

I'll roll to the middle.

Every time. No matter what. As a matter of principle, as a matter of covenant. Even when everything in me screams to run away and never look back.

I'll roll to the middle.

And that's where we found ourselves a few months ago. In this roll to the middle situation where we had to be honest, have hard conversations, make tough decisions and find ourselves again. And we did.

But first, we had to roll.

Why Is Having a Good Marriage a Bad Thing?

It wasn’t until we were married for a few years that I started feeling uncomfortable talking about mine and Zach’s relationship. I’d already endured years of eye rolling, but when one of my closest friends started going through a difficult time in her marriage, I just didn’t feel like it was appropriate to talk about my marriage. We’d never gone through anything tough or trying and I just felt like I needed to be a listening ear and not rub my inexperienced marriage in anyone’s face.

Around the four year mark, people started saying things like, “Oh just wait. Things will get bad. Trust me. They always do.” We’d go to marriage retreats and seminars and the speaker would say to a crowd full of nodding attendees, “One day, things are going to get so bad that you’re going to want to leave and run away and never come back, and the only reason you’ll stay is because you choose to stay.” I’ll never forget when one speaker told us that one day we won’t be in love anymore and we’ll have to fight through it until we learn to love each other again.

Zach and I would always walk away from those meetings feeling so defeated and confused and wondering when the other shoe was going to drop. We’d have long conversations about our relationship and wondering if we were just deluded into thinking that our relationship could always be as good as it was right then. He’d remind me that he would always choose me and even if he didn’t “feel” love, he would always choose to love me. (You can read more of his thoughts on that whole thing in the only post he’s ever written for ya’ll : When I Hate My Wife)

So now we’re over six years into this marriage and 9 years into our relationship. The other shoe hasn’t dropped yet and we’re used to the eye rolls. We get that we’re still newly married (ish) and that our toughest years are yet to come. We’re still in our 20’s, still in the having energy, having babies, having lots of sex stage. We’re not deluded about the future. We know things can get bad. But they haven’t yet and so sometimes we feel like because things haven’t been tough and we haven’t had to fight for our marriage that we somehow don’t qualify as married folk. We get awkward when people share marriage war stories because we don’t have any. We get annoyed when people roll their eyes at us as if we’re teenagers in love that have yet to meet the reality of relationships. It’s disheartening and frustrating because why is it such a bad thing that our marriage is awesome?

All my life, the only marriage stories I’ve ever heard people talk about are the ones that were broken and then miraculously put back together. Or the ones that broke, never mended, but then they met someone else and then everything was perfect. Very rarely do you ever hear someone talk about having a consistently good relationship with their spouse, in spite of trials and in spite of life circumstances. In premarital counseling, you’re warned of all the things that can and will go wrong once you’re in a married relationship and you’re given tools to deal with those issues, overcome them, and have a happy marriage again. Those are all great things, but what about preventive measures? What about setting up your marriage for success before you even cross those bridges?

Zach and I have come close to crossing a few bridges that we’d never thought we’d have to cross. But when we got to those bridges, we stopped. No steps further. We turned around, fought it out, and walked away still tethered to each other. And yet for someone reason, that type of marriage is laughed at because we're naive and inexperienced. Maybe that's true. Maybe we just don't know what we got ourselves into and the future will be bleak and hopeless. But I don't think so. And here's why. 

We talk about every.single.thing. Zach is my best friend, in every sense of the word. He's the first person I want to talk to when I'm excited, struggling, angry, sad, whatever. I tell him every ugly thought, every sappy emotion, every embarassing experience, and he does the same for me. It's not a rule, it's just something we've always done. I'd rather hang out with him than anyone else. My feelings of loneliness during this season of motherhood never last very long, because I have him to fall back on. We have fun together, we laugh together, we play stupid games, and act like children. It works for us.

We don't fight about money. Ever. It doesn't matter who is making the money, it all goes into the same pot. There is no mine and yours, there is just ours. We decide together where every dollar is going to go. Sometimes we don't agree, but we always work it out before we walk away from budget night. We're on the same team when it comes to this money thing and if we weren't, I'm pretty sure our marriage would be a lot rockier. We were so lucky to find Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University class in our second year of marriage. We did a lot of money fighting before then, but after that, we've been on the same page and haven't fought about money since. Not once. It's incredible.

 We respect each other. I don't belittle or demean him and he doesn't roll his eyes at my emotional outbursts. If one of us crosses the line, we let the other one know immediately. And then we talk. A lot. I tend to be the one that wants to walk away, but Zach usually won't let me off that easily.

We resolve our marital issues before we even have the chance to take it outside of our relationship. I've never felt the need to talk to my friends about some awful thing he did because I talk to him first. We work it out before it has the chance to leave the house. I don't call my friends when I'm angry at him, but I'll talk to them about it later, when it's over. I respect him too much to spread our issues around to other people. (See my post Why I Won't Bash My Husband for more of my thoughts on that.)

We don't use the "D" word. Divorce is not even an option. We don't even use that word in heated arguments or as an empty threat. It doesn't come into our marriage at all. That keeps us from having an escape plan and it kind of forces us to choose to love each other every day. I know things won't always be pretty and young and full of good vibes, but when things get ugly and boring and lifeless, we'll have years of practicing love and commitment to fall back on. I choose him every day. He chooses me every day. And we always will. (Here's a post I wrote on the "D" word for the Knoxville Moms Blog a few months ago.)

I just wish we could stop glorifying struggle. Yes, it is amazing when a couple can overcome hardship and rise from the ashes of a broken marriage. Actually, "amazing" isn't even the word. It's phenomenal. A miracle, even. But that shouldn't negate the miracle of a marriage that's never been broken. We work hard at our marriage and it's worth celebrating and bragging about. Healthy marriages shouldn't be hidden, they should be flaunted. So this is me flaunting.

Permission to flaunt your feathers granted, internet.

It's Not My Job To Keep My Husband From Looking At Porn

Once upon a time, I was in a healthy relationship with a boy that I loved very much. We had no secrets. We talked about everything, were completely committed to each other and were even discussing the possibility of getting married. We dated for two and a half years and not once during our relationship did I feel the need, nor did he ask, for me to send him naked photos. In fact, during our entire relationship, we never saw each other naked. Not once. That is ... until our wedding night. I am proud and have been told that I'm a little too braggy about the fact that the first time Zach and I shared the most intimate thing a man and woman can share was on our wedding night. We'd said our vows, celebrated our commitment to each other, and then we got our hanky spanky on. It was amazing and I am so thankful that I found a man who valued my worth and his own worth enough to wait for the goods until we'd honored Christ first with our marriage.

This whole celebrity nude scandal is a mess. What happened to these women was nothing short of a sex crime, fully deserving of imprisonment and whatever else our judicial system decides to do with the criminals. I hope they catch them and I hope they never see the light of day again. These women's privacies were invaded on a level I can't even comprehend and I am horrified and embarrassed for every single one of them. While I don't think sending nudes to anyone (even on snapchat-come on, people.) is a wise decision, I would never condemn someone for doing such a thing. I know most of the women whose photos were stolen were in long term healthy relationships and their photos were sent within the "privacy" of a healthy relationship. What happened to them is in no way their fault, or the fault of their significant others. Just because I don't think sending intimate photos through technology is a great idea, they didn't give anyone permission to view their naked body other than the person they sent those photos to. Shame on every single person who looked at those photos. Shame on you a hundred million times.

Jennifer Lawrence recently made a statement about the whole ordeal. I feel like the world has been waiting to see what she would have to say since her photos have been the most talked about out all of the women who were victimized. I loved her statement up until she said this :

"It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you" 

Come ON, J-Law! Are you kidding me? I'm so beyond disappointed in that one sentence. I'm ticked off about it and I hope she comes forward and recants it because not only is it sexist against men, it perpetuates this idea that it is the girl's responsibility to keep her man away from porn.

It's Not My Job To Keep my Husband From Looking at Porn
It's Not My Job To Keep my Husband From Looking at Porn

Girls. Women. Ladies. Please do not believe this lie. It is not your responsibility, nor your job, nor your service to your spouse, to keep him away from porn. If you ask your boyfriend, fiance, husband, whatever, not to look at porn and he says, "Well then I need some photos of you cause I need to look at something..." just. Run. As far away and as quickly as you can. If you're married, get that man in to see a counselor because his sexual addiction is way beyond your help. That is a self control problem and your naked photos won't solve it. I have known many a boy who has played the victim to his sexual addictions and I'm so over it that it's nauseating. "It's the way we're wired.", "At least I'm not cheating on you!", "Well you're not putting out, I have to get it from somewhere!" I've heard it all. And they are all lies straight from the pit of hell.

Shame on every woman who thinks the man that they love is so weak in his sexual impulses that he can't refrain from opening up a website and wanking off to other women. Guess what? HE CAN. And guess what else? You don't have to be his porn. Don't think for one second that by you sending him nudies that he's not going to go back to his favorite porn sites and visit his favorite bodies. Now. I'm not saying that it's wrong for a wife to send her husband a little playful photo every now and then. Definitely not. In fact, I'm pretty sure my husband wishes I trusted the internet and my photo sending abilities enough to send him a little look-see once in a while, but if your purpose in sending vulnerable pictures of yourself to anyone is to keep them from looking at someone else, you've got it all mixed up.

My wonderful husband is very open about his pre-Jesus struggle with porn addiction. It didn't disappear when he chose to commit his life to Christ, but it no longer controlled his private time. He has never, and will never say that he's not tempted to go back to that addiction. A struggle is a struggle and he has gone to great (almost laughable) measures to ensure that he never walks back to that temptation. And if your husband is struggling with those things, Zach would be happy to chat and give him some suggestions on how to guard his mind against sexual sin. All that being said, Zach's commitment to keep himself pure empowered him to help keep me pure as well. He never crossed a line in our relationship. Well. I say he didn't, he might disagree, but our ideas on what is crossing the line vary a little bit. The point is, his love and respect for me always beat out (no pun intended) his personal desires. Because of that, I have never once doubted him, suspected him, or distrusted him. The fact that he was able to keep his pants zipped until our wedding day gives me full confidence that I married a man who will always love me and respect me, even when sexual temptation is staring him in the face.

But lest you think Zach is arrogant in his sexual purity, let me clarify. While he says he'll never cheat on me (and I believe him with all of my heart), he doesn't convince himself of that because he refuses to get lazy in his fortitude with keeping his temptations and former addictions at bay. It's an area of his life that he consistently submits to Christ and prays about and he is quite literally always taking measures to protect his mind and his heart from sin.

So, I say all that, not to brag (maybe a little bit), but to say that it is possible to find and marry a man who hasn't given himself over to the way they're "wired". You don't need to put out, to send photos, or to emit any kind of sexual energy to keep your man from looking or lusting after other women. I'll say it again : IT'S NOT YOUR JOB. That responsibility rests solely on the man you're with and if he's not man enough to control his urges, he's not man enough to be with you.

I'm writing this from the perspective (obviously) of a Christian woman married to a Christian man, but this is truth that is truth regardless of the reasoning behind it. I don't care if you're in a healthy sexual relationship with your boyfriend of however many years. I'm not going to judge you and I'm not going to tell you you should stop and get to the church to get forgiven of your fornication. I'm not going to hold you to the same standards that I hold myself because you don't believe what I do and that would just be pointless, right? I'm not interested in starting a debate about morals and ethics and values. I'm just talking to you, woman to woman, and begging you to please stop believing the lie that your boyfriend will look at you or he'll look at porn. It is definitely not a one or the other type of thing. Men are stronger than their sexual desires and anyone that tells you otherwise is either lying, misinformed, or is just trying to get a little glimpse at your goods.

Women should never use their bodies as a tool. Ever. Your body is amazing and does amazing things and I hope that you will never cheapen it by snapping a naked selfie and sending it over the extremely unreliable internet as a means to keep your significant other from wandering. Men can be better than that, I swear to you.

Here is my proof on our wedding day 6 years ago :

When Your Love Story Isn't Perfect

I write a lot about mine and Zach's relationship, and I probably always will. We have something special and we are well aware of how blessed we are to have found each other at such a young age. Zach is my best friend, my soul mate, my absolute everything. I'd be lost without him. For real. And I think that's a good thing. Our lives and our hearts are so wrapped up into each other that it would take a lot ... and I mean something catastrophic and extreme ... to rip us apart. Are you done gagging yet? Ok good. I'll carry on then.

Our relationship is great now, but it wasn't always. In fact, by all logic and reason, we should have never made it to the dating stage. Not through the dating stage ... to the dating stage. Zach broke up with me before we were even officially together. I was a psycho overly attached non girlfriend that called him 14 times in a row until he picked up. He was struggling with feeling like he was breaking a vow he made to God not to date for a year and I was struggling with getting over a toxic two year relationship that destroyed all my self worth. We were a mess, but for some reason, we fell in love and decided to make things official and then everything was better and we lived happily ever after.

Except that's a total lie because things just got messier and messier. About two weeks after we made things official, I took off to Paraguay and he took off to Ohio for our summer internships. That was our first awesome decision : to begin a relationship thousands of miles apart. Good job, guys. We almost broke up twice before I even got on the plane. Once I was in Paraguay and he was in Ohio, things got worse. He thought maybe God brought him to Ohio to meet his future wife. I thought maybe God brought me to Paraguay to test my patience with this boy because he was throwing some serious shade. Our relationship was 95% on instant messenger and that was all we had to keep in touch. Every now and then I'd walk to the store and use my calling card to talk to him, but that was rare and it almost always ended in a fight because, as previously stated, I was psycho. If he had to get off the phone before I felt like the appropriate love emotions had been communicated, I'd go ballistic. Poor guy...

That summer was crap. We almost broke up more times than I can count. We spent hours on instant messenger talking about all of our insecurities about our relationship, our fears, our failures, our ugly feelings and all the bull crap that people don't usually confront until they're engaged or married. We just took it right on. He told me he was doubting our relationship and I told him I was doubting him. We didn't work stuff out until the summer was over and we were face to face again. And even then, things were messy.

Our relationship was always messy. Always. And if it wasn't enough that we were struggling with finding our identities, our callings, trying to figure out if our relationship would ever work, we had a pretty painful departure from a youth group we were working with, someone on staff at our school decided to tell a few people that they thought Zach and I were fornicatin' and it pretty much just crushed me. Cause we weren't. Not even close. I was lucky to get a make out session once a semester cause Zach was just always so careful and respectful of the boundaries we'd set up. So for someone to say we were doing the hanky spanky when we'd never even wandered below the neck line was just ... well. It sucked.

As all the crap was happening, and daggers were being tossed, and rumors were flying, our fights got worse and my doubts grew heavy. And then ... like a break in the clouds ... I was sure. On our one year anniversary, Zach got down on one knee and asked, "Can I keep you?" And then I was unsure. And then I was sure. And then I was unsure. And then I was sure.

And then our wedding day came and when the doors opened and I saw him standing at the end of the aisle waiting for me, I was never more sure of anything in my life before or since. Until that day, our relationship was held together by strands, it seemed. We were young and immature and we were both a mess. But after we said our vows and signed a paper and finally got our hanky spanky on, our relationship was golden. And every day, our relationship is better than the day before.

Sometimes things still get a little messy. We've had our fair share of dark days and long nights. We've gone days without really talking to each other, and we've had times where even the idea of intimacy of any kind is just a joke. Things have been bad, but even when they were bad, we were good. Since the day I said "I Do", I've never doubted our relationship. Not for a second.

I think a lot of women (and maybe guys too) think that love has to be this Twilightesque perfect thing. And maybe that if your man isn't sweeping you off your feet every day, he doesn't really love you, or is cheating on you, or has a secret alternative wife and family somewhere in Canada. But love is messy, ya'll. It doesn't always start off pretty. If it does start off pretty, it's not going to stay pretty. If it stays pretty, somebody is hiding something. If somebody's hiding something, that doesn't mean the love story is over. When your love story isn't perfect, just try and remember that it's probably because people aren't perfect. But your story can still be incredible. Ours is.