“More marriages might survive
if the partners realized that sometimes
the better comes after the worse.”
I think many people are a bit in awe of the relationship Allen and I have built. Notice I said, built. There is nothing about marriage, or any relationship for that matter, that sustains without constant reconstruction.
We were high-school sweethearts and I don't think anyone expected us to make it...including us. But we did. We have. We still are...making it.
In fact, I would like to boldly proclaim that today we love one another more than we ever have. Allen and I have been married for almost 20 years. In all, we've known each other and been in some type of relationship for 27+ years. Amazing. Truly, I am amazed. It has taken a lot of work and even more heartache to get us to the place we are today. We've had many struggles and barely made it through the first year of marriage without filing for divorce. We were young. It was hard. It's funny to think back on the things we struggled with then, neither of us knowing what real struggles could be.
It has been said that tragedy can make or break a marriage. For us, thankfully, it made us the people we are today. In 2002 we lost our first child to miscarriage. It was an early miscarriage, I was only around two months pregnant. A few months later I was pregnant again. Lexi Rae was born in April of 2003. We were scared to death and overjoyed at the same time. When Lexi was just over 9 months old, as I held her in my arms...with Allen standing behind me, she left this world and went to heaven. Child loss is indescribable, but the bond Allen and I formed during those months can never be broken. He was my rock then, and he is my rock now. You can read more about that story here, Heaven Has A Teenager.
So much has changed in our life since we lost Lexi in 2004. We are older and I'd like to think much wiser. Plus, we have Drake. I'm sure most people believe our lives are cursed. We've lost two children and now we have an autistic child. Nothing could be further from the truth. I cannot imagine a world without Drake. He has brought so much joy and completion to our lives. He filled a huge void that nothing else would have filled. Has it been hard, yes. Do we worry? Absolutely. We've had many arguments on what is best for Drake. We fuss, we fight, we get angry, we raise our voices, but not once have I worried about that man walking out and leaving us. Not once. Above all else, we are a team. No matter how crazy my idea is, if it will benefit Drake and we are able to do it...we do it. One thing I know for sure is that Allen trusts my motherly instinct. It has proven itself too many times not to trust it.
So, how do we keep our love for one another and our marriage strong? We wing it, mostly. Seriously though, there is no manual for this stuff. However, I do believe it requires two people with the same common goal....making it work, no matter what. For us, it also requires these three things:
1. Jesus. I can honestly say that we would not be married today without our faith. The relationship Allen and I have built with one another would not have been possible without trusting the Lord to see us through many, many trials. It would take me days and days of writing to list all the blessings we have received. Many of them you would not believe. There have been so many, "that was God," moments. The tragedies we have faced are nothing compared to the hope we have been promised. I am so thankful every single day for the grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love we have been shown time and time again.
2. Making time for us. When Drake was diagnosed with autism over three years ago our lives changed dramatically. I quit my job and spent the majority of my time on the road getting Drake to and from therapy. It was so different for us, but necessary. That very summer we started a new nighttime tradition. At night, after Drake was asleep, we made time for us. Was I exhausted? More than you can imagine. However, that 'us' time was more important than sleep. We watched TV, sat on our porch, or played a card game/board game. Three years later, we still do this 3-4 nights a week. Of course now we are lazy and generally just watch TV, but it's still OUR time. We laugh, we talk, and we just enjoy one another. I would also like to add the importance of intimacy. We make time for it. It's a must in our marriage and important to keep those fires burning. Allen flirts with me now more than he did in high school and it makes me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. He spoils me rotten and honestly treats me like a queen. This man cooks, cleans, washes dishes, vacuums floors, and co-parents like a boss. When he has Drake, he isn't a babysitter...he is a parent. Sexy, right? I'm one blessed lady. Sometimes I feel so unworthy of such a man. I can be hard to love. I'm ill-tempered and on edge many days, but he knows how to make me laugh. He knows that my stress level is high, that I'm exhausted and somehow he has learned how to love me in spite of my bad attitude. He gets me and loves me anyway.
3. Find a babysitter. I know, I know...easier said than done. Listen, it took us over two years to find someone. About once a month we get away for just one night. By the way babe, if you're reading this..we are past due. That may not seem like much, but it is the world to us. An old college friend of mine is our babysitter (another one of those "that was God" moments). Don't get me wrong, I was absolutely terrified the first night we left Drake. It took lots of preparation and 52 pages of notes, but we did it. Drake absolutely loves it, but it's not possible that he loves it more than we do. It's our one night to eat a nice dinner and just relax. Sometimes we watch a movie, but mostly we find a place with a balcony..we sit on it, listen to music, and relax. It's the most amazing thing in the world. We still are not ready to venture out and get away more than one night, but I think that is definitly something that is in our future plans.
Our love has never been easy, but it's ours. Long ago, because of tragedy, Jesus, and just good ole love...we became an amazing team. I can't imagine doing life with anyone else. Marriage takes commitment. You must be committed to doing whatever it takes to make it work....and it takes both people working toward that common goal. It's more than words, it's many, many actions over and over that shows the other person that you're in this for the long haul. Nothing about life is easy, and having children with special needs puts so much pressure on an already strained and busy life. However, it's doable. We are doing it each and every day. If I could offer advice it would be to make love fun again. Flirt with your spouse, have romantic dinners (even if it's just at home), make your spouse feel important, encourage them, champion them, support them, and be present(perhaps the most important).