25 Years of Incompatibility

Today is our 25th wedding anniversary. 25 years!

I remember thinking ten years was a big accomplishment.

Justin Taylor posted a G. K. Chesterton quote on Twitter last week. It made me laugh…and think. I’m not going to pretend to be well versed in Chesterton’s writings (I’ve only read a couple of Father Brown mysteries), but I did download the book from which this quote was taken (What’s Wrong With the World?) on my Kindle over the weekend. It was free, and I’ve been accumulating a few things to read on our trip to Greece which begins this evening.

It was over 100 degrees in San Antonio, TX that day. We rode off in a horse drawn carriage with all of that birdseed stuck to our sweaty skin. The air-conditioning at the reception venue went out, and the ice sculptures my mother insisted upon did not fare well. (Neither did our poor guests.)

Anyway, here are the tweets:

Don’t feel compatible with your spouse? Chesterton: “I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one.” >>

>> “The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable.”

This led me to look up the definition of compatible.

Compatible: (of two things) able to exist or occur together without conflict.

Chesterton was definitely on to something.

In my small hometown (Uvalde, TX), weddings got a half page write up.

Two weeks ago I watched Robert as he instructed us, a group of camp Bible study leaders, on the framework and theology of the book of I John. White paper ripped off its roll and taped to the wall in order to illustrate overlapping themes, he pulled out his marker.

A dry erase marker.

I thought I might have to leave the room hearing that expensive marker, meant to glide smoothly and quietly across a slick white board, spill its precious ink on that crude butcher paper.

“But dry erase markers work fine on paper, too” was his reply to my later (and incredulous) inquiry.

That “they work” is, of course, not the point. The point is, “is it best” to use them in this (savage) way. We discovered, after 25 years of marriage, that we have serious conflicts about the proper stewardship of dry erase markers. Robert’s sole concern is with necessity, practicality; mine contains both the practical and the ethical. (And is therefore much more pious, of course.)

And to think that he actually questioned my morals here. He may have even called me a “dry erase legalist” a couple of weeks ago. I’m just not sure I can submit to his leadership in the case of marker usage, and I know for a fact that many of you are with me on this one.

Rehearsal Dinner with the flower girl – my little sister, Melinda.

Even before this shocking dry erase marker debate, I noticed something that happens fairly regularly when we are in the car together.

He’ll be turning left, but my body is leaning right. Left is clearly not the fastest way to our destination, but I have gained a smidge of self control through the years, so I wait. But it happens again. This time he’s turning right, and I’m leaning left. Patience and self control all used up (it lasted at least two whole minutes), I ask him where he’s headed, because surely we’re not going to the same destination in our minds. I’m surprised when he assures me that we’re headed to such and such a place. Really? He must have  forgotten the route.

But, no.

He did not forget how to get to that place we go to on a regular basis. In fact, his route and underlying logic (though questionable in my mind), will get us to our destination. Our daughter, Kayla, claims to have directional dyslexia; Robert and I are just diametrically opposed, directionally speaking.

To-may-to, To-mah-to. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

We’re definitely not calling the whole thing off over markers and maps.

Our engagement photo. When my grandmother saw it she said “Why didn’t you comb your hair?”

But our incompatibility is not always over such minor things. (Though dry erase markers and efficient travel can become major if left unchecked.) We have opposing methods and visions for many things, some of which we didn’t even realize until recently. In fact, it wasn’t until about 23 years into our 25 year marriage that we realized how much differently we viewed our role as parents.

 “But you’d already raised your kids for the most part,” you might interject. True, but a lot of that child rearing was done with some unspoken and underlying conflict and questioning of each other’s methods. When we finally (or more fully) discovered this in year 24, it was not very pretty. Ugly attitudes were exposed, angry words were spoken, self-righteousness surfaced, contempt and disdain could not be contained, and I’m not proud to report that most of those sinful reactions were mine.

We needed help to navigate those volatile waters, and we found it in a fellow-pastor-turned-friend. He asked us questions, helped us understand the other’s perspective, gave us journaling assignments and scripture to memorize. He also marveled at our kindness toward one another, and complimented our mutual respect and love. Those were encouraging words in the midst of what felt like such a difficult time.

New Year’s Eve in Austin, TX
My brother’s wedding in Santa Monica, CA.
Anniversary trip to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Parenting, finances, extended family, friendships, free time, ministry, holidays, and more. I’m not sure how we didn’t realize for such a long time that we aren’t very compatible in many areas. Sometimes I think it’s a special mercy from God that we haven’t been fully aware of our incompatibility, because we very often have conflicting convictions, varying visions, and differing dreams. And it’s not just us.  If you’re married, it’s you, too. (In fact, you probably knew it long before me, and handled it with much more grace. Really.)

But here’s where we are completely compatible: The gospel is our go-to.

We each treasure the good news that Christ has died in our place. We both acknowledge that we desperately needed the forgiveness given at the cross. We know our capability to inflict wounds as well as our incapability of knowing and loving one another sufficiently.  We each realize that we are dependent on God’s power and strength daily. And really, even these things are not of ourselves. The ability to love God, His gospel, and each other are gifts straight from Him – “nothing but the dripping grace of Jesus” is how someone might put it.

Molly and Brian’s Wedding at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst. (Photo Credit: Shannon Sarkisian)
Crested Butte, CO for Chris and Katie’s wedding.
Deerfield, MA Family Photo Shoot. (Photo Credit: Kylie Lynn Photography)

And I know there are very serious and seemingly insurmountable issues in marriage, even marriages between two Christians, but I’m convinced that if both partners receive and depend on the gospel, anything is possible. I’m not just theoretically convinced either.  I’ve witnessed it.

The gospel has the power to make incompatible people harmonious. Happy, even. Just look at the church and it’s assortment of all different kinds of people. I think it’s what Chesterton was getting at. An overarching mutuality and kindredness arises when the gospel is your go-to, but it still takes effort. There remains a necessity to choose and focus on gospel truths (i.e. I require grace and forgiveness as much as he does) and fight through the incompatibility.

In our marriage, Robert has led the way in this fight. Quick to listen, quick to ask forgiveness, slow to complain or accuse, he’s displayed a humility in our incompatibility that has softened my many sharp edges and given me a safe place to grow.

Sometime during our newlywed stage, I was introduced to Beth Moore and her Bible study workbooks and videos. If you don’t know who she is, it’s time to look her up and order her study on David, or The Tabernacle, or Daniel, or maybe the best one of all in my opinion, Jesus, the One and Only. In many ways, she continued into my adult life the depth of discipleship I had received during my college days at UT (Thank you, Laura, Cas, and Tracy) only via workbook and video and conference. (I did meet her in person once at a Passion Conference probably 23 years ago. I’m sure she remembers it well.)

Chris & Nicolette’s 1920’s Speakeasy 40th Birthday Party. (Photo filters by Jen Sinclair)
A 1970’s 40th Birthday Party for Lois.
Halloween. Taylor Swift and her rapper friend.

If I had to guess, I would say the following two pieces of advice came from her study on the life of David, but I’m not completely certain. Anyway, I tucked them away in my heart, have prayed them regularly, and believe God has answered powerfully. I suppose this has been one way I’ve fought through our incompatibility.

Beth said this:

Pray to always be thrilled by his kiss.

And now I’ll attempt to comment on this exhortation in true Beth form: (Read with a deep, serious Texas drawl)  Y’all. Let me just tell you right now, my man’s touch still thrills me to no end. His kiss sends my heart aflutter to this very day. Whew. Be careful what you pray for, sister. Y’all don’t need to wonder how we’ll spend the time in Greece when we’re not touring those ruins. MmmmmHmmm. 

In other words, I think (actually, I know) this is a prayer God loves to hear and answer.

Incompatibility and conflict have a way of dampening attraction and desire. This prayer is a remedy for that, and I can attest to its power. I don’t like for Robert to leave the room I’m in, let alone the house or the country. I never tire of being with him, and his kiss, embrace, and touch still make my heart beat fast. It’s a gift and a specific answer to a specific prayer.

Here’s something else Beth taught me about praying for my marriage:

Be shrewd as a serpent, innocent as a dove.

It comes from Matthew 10 and deals with persecution. Beth expanded this by urging us to remain pure of heart and to maintain all hope, but to face the fact that the enemy wages war on our husbands daily. She taught me to pray shrewdly that Robert would have eyes only for me and be able to resist the temptation that will inevitably come.

Imagine what happens when both spouses pray along those lines for each other? It’s something that transcends mere compatibility, I can tell you that for sure.

Whether it be silly things like dry erase markers or serious issues like parenting (and don’t even get me started on purchasing appropriate wedding gifts for others or timeliness in returning emails and phone calls), Robert and I are incompatible in many ways.

But we are happy. Happy in the gospel of Christ and therefore in each other – for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health – conflict or compatibility, until death do us part.

So today, and with much gratitude to God, we celebrate 25 years of happy incompatibility.

Crosswalk Camp “Flight Plan” photo – 2014
Allyson, our camp director, had all the campers and chaperones pray for us this year in celebration of our anniversary. Truly an overwhelming blessing.

P.S. Beth’s marriage has been anything but ease and compatibility. Want to be greatly encouraged regarding your marital incompatibility? Then read this post by Beth on their 38th anniversary.

Not convinced enough to click? Here’s an excerpt to help with that…

We don’t just kiss on our anniversary. We high five.

I’m really reluctant to do what I’m about to do because what if he and I get into the biggest fight of our lives tonight and I maniacally hurl all his fishing gear and deer heads and forty pair of unders in the front yard? I’ve never done that before but I’ve always known I had it in me. I’ve always kept my pitching arm in shape for such a time as this. And what if one of the neighbors videos us and I end up on the YouTube cussing? I’ve never been one to cuss much but, if I’m ever going to have a cussing conniption, it will be my luck to have it on the YouTube. One time I did try to leave Keith and he said, “Go right ahead. Leave me. But you’ll look in your rearview mirror and there I will be and not because I like you any better than you like me. Because I don’t. But because we are married and married we’ll stay.” Keith never was a great Catholic except about the one thing I wished he’d been more Baptist about: splitting.

(She cracks me up.)

And here’s a poem she wrote about marriage, in which she also urges a young bride to “pray to love his tender touch and want his gentle kiss.”

 

4 thoughts on “25 Years of Incompatibility”

  1. Liz told me to read this and Liz NEVER tells me to read things! What an awesome post! I’m always so thankful for you both!

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