For the past seven years, I have called Denton, TX my home. I was attending college at one of the local universities, where I met my husband, Ryan.
When Ryan and I started dating, I told him I only wanted one kid, maybe two, and that I had full intentions of having a career. “So have you ever wanted to stay at home when you have children?” I remember feeling stunned by that question. Why would I do that? I’m paying thousands of dollars for a degree I’m working hard towards. “Ryan, I’m telling you right now I don’t want to do that.” And the conversation was left at that.
I had no idea how much my heart would change over the next four years. I graduated May 2016, got married in that August, and Ryan graduated that December. Together our educational debt was well over 120K, with our credit scores in the mid 500-low 600 range. I started working a higher ed job that paid $29,000 a year while Ryan took more courses to get his Property and Casualty license. Over the next 6 months Ryan took the courses and found a job in insurance.
In the fall of 2017 I got a raise, going from $29,000 to $35,000 a month. However, because Ryan’s job at the time didn’t offer any benefits, I had to put him under my insurance. So any difference I received in my paycheck went to cover insurance. But that was okay, as Ryan was getting roughly $2,000 a month plus commission at his job. After grueling through our budget month to month, we finally felt like we could start saving our money for bigger and better things. We purchased a new vehicle, we started looking at nicer apartments to move to until we could purchase a home. It felt like we were finally getting out of this “broke newly wed” theme.
Then things started to fall apart.
In November of 2017, Ryan went to work for a different insurance company, where he was let go within a week. I remember him telling me the agency owner let him go as they were “changing directions”. He gave Ryan a few contacts to get in touch with, and that he was sorry he didn’t give him a fair shot. I left work immediately — I became very frantic. I remember walking home, thinking “Ryan will have the forty-five minute car ride home to be upset and process what had just happened.”
He walked through the door and all the thoughts about going through job applications, making calls, getting connected to job through friends’ places of work, vanished. We held each other for a long time. That night we decided to wait for Ryan to get a job until the new year. We knew the holidays would be tough, and we wanted to have the flexibility for our families. We had managed to save a few thousand dollars in our savings account, so we felt confident we could use that as a reserve. During this time I also decided to look for a job with higher pay, and was grateful I was selected. I was nervous, as the position was on the more technical side of current job, but I was eager to learn something more challenging.
The next season of our lives has broken us down and built us back up over and again. We’ve struggled with our families, friendships, and our marriage. It has made us vulnerable to our cores, has shown us who our community is, and pointed us back to Christ.
So fast forward to January of 2018. This is when we were expecting him to go back to the job market, even if it meant a retail job until he found something he wanted to pursue. Insurance was really out of the question, as several jobs were strictly commission based and we needed more stability. That’s when Ryan’s health started to decline. Ryan has had back problems for several years now. When we first started dating in 2014, he had several cortisone injections in his lower back that were successful. However, the pain returned with a vengeance. His back pain started flaring up again, and this time around he was also experiencing pain in his neck. He started staying up all night, not being able to sleep from the pain. He became isolated, depressed, and felt frustrated that his pain was keeping him from doing even the simplest of tasks. We went through six rounds of cortisone injections, three in his neck then three in his back. He was getting these every other week, so we decided he needed to hold off on a job until his quality of life improved.
This by far has been the most difficult season for us. Our marriage at times has felt like its been thrown into a pressure cooker. Our friends and family, under good intentions, have questioned why we’ve made our decisions the way we have. Why am I working full-time? Is Ryan’s pain REALLY that unmanageable? Is he really trying to get better? As a spouse, I have felt helpless, concerned, frustrated, and exhausted from the multiple questions I get about our situation.
These comments, though I know come from a place of love and care for Ryan and I, began to swirl around my mind from the moment I woke up to when I closed my eyes at night. These thoughts began to cripple us in our marriage, and I began to question my spouse without even communicating with Ryan on my heart and the burden I was carrying. Wanna talk about a bitter place. Not to mention, I wasn’t even considering how all this was making Ryan feel. There was a lot of fighting, weeping, and feeling hopeless.
I started communicating with Ryan about where my heart was, how our marriage felt like a pressure cooker, and that I felt so weary trying to balance everything. And a remarkable thing happened. Ryan poured out everything he had been carrying. He was heartbroken over the constant pain he had, he felt like a failure, and that he was so grateful I was working hard to make sure we could get through this.
The answers to the anxiety-crippling thoughts were in front of me the whole time, had I chosen to actually communicate with my spouse. And that’s when I started choosing joy. That’s when I started letting go of what I can’t change, and learning how to love well.
- Choosing joy doesn’t mean I put a happy face on and say “I’m fine” or “We’re fine”.
- Only after going through the frustration, hurt, and hopelessness did I start to choose joy. Going through a wave of emotions is natural for us as human beings, and honestly, it’s healthy. Would it have been better for me to choose joy sooner than later? Absolutely. Sometimes I will take the scenic route of all the worst case scenarios, and that’s something I’m hoping The Lord can change in my heart. Choosing joy for me means that I am giving it over to the Lord, as I know His truth: He will never leave us nor forsake us.
- Choosing joy is an everyday decision, and it does NOT always come naturally.
- AND THAT’S OKAY! You’re human, and therefore you are not expected to choose joy and not have any real interaction with what’s going on in your life. We’re not a void, we are complex beings that are constantly trying to process what’s happening to us and around us. Give yourself some grace here, but remember those truths about the Lord. That’s why we can choose joy in the first place.
- For us, we couldn’t choose joy without Jesus
- Though our marriage only began two years ago, we have constantly needed and payed for Jesus to be at the center of our lives. For us, He has renewed us over and over, walking through every bit of our pain. Jesus has lifted us out of the muck and the mire, and continues to do so even now, as we are still in this season.
Choosing joy looks different for so many people, but for us, our marriage has changed for the better because of this season that we are still going through. Ryan is still going through this pain, with surgery likely becoming a viable option at the end of all this. He has gone through two rounds of facet injections, still taking two to three pain pills a day with no real relief insight yet. But we can only be hopeful as we move forward from this season, and to look forward to another year of marriage together.
Our lives are finite and fleeting, but I believe this moment in time is meant to change us. We are meant to rely on Jesus. I know for me this is an opportunity to continue to seeing God’s truths played out: I see you, I love you, I am with you, do not be afraid, I am in control, beloved let go of your idea of control. You are my cherished one, and I am not going anywhere. So I am telling my husband that I love him, to not be afraid, that we’re going to give this over to the Lord, and that he is my cherished one, and I am not going anywhere.