It was 1:30 in the morning at the Waffle House just inside the car dealership parking lot off of McPherson Church Rd., and Jake and I were sipping black coffee and hot chocolate with whipped cream, respectively, at the bar while we waited for our All Star Breakfast and made small talk with the cooks behind the counter. We debriefed thoroughly and honestly.
This day had been the roughest out of the first four of Jake’s return, though neither of us had expected it to be. The morning had started out well. Jake went in for a short day at work, and I got up early(ish) to pray and spend solid time with God in the quiet of the morning. I spent time praying for Hannah and also for Khalida, and then also for Ashley and Anna. I’ve been challenged as of late by 1 Samuel 12 (yes, the whole chapter). The context of this chapter is of the nation of Israel demanding that God give them a king to rule over them, that they might be like all the other nations, and so Samuel is simultaneously giving them a benediction and a warning.
“Then Samuel said to the people, ‘Do not fear. You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing.” (v. 20-21) —This passage challenged me to pray for the preservation of the girls God desires me to invest in, love, be faithful to, and encourage as they walk with Jesus, which I don’t always pray for…It reminds me that He’s doing something in their lives, not me, and that I need to be praying His thoughts and plans for them, and not my own…
“‘Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.'” (v. 23-25)—God has been convicting me about my lack of faithfulness to the people He’s clearly given me to commit to pray for, encourage, love, and challenge as they walk with Him, and also those who don’t walk with Him, and so He used this to remind me that “Out of sight, out of mind” cannot be the nature of my thoughts. I need to be deliberate about praying for those who are not always right in front of me, and those I don’t see every day.
These passages fueled my prayers this morning, and the time was sweet. When Jake came home from work, Hannah stopped by to pick up some things (since she and her husband Matthew had been living in our house during Jake’s absence, while I’d been living everywhere with everyone…oh, that was cool :)…anyway, there were still some of Hannah and Matthew’s things at the house) and talked to us for a while. It’s really cool that she lives so close to us now, when while we’d been growing up as friends, we’d lived just under two hours from each other, and then even further when I’d gone to Pratt in New York City.
After Hannah left, Jake and I headed out to run some errands. The first stop was to get an expedited passport for him (did I mention we’re heading to Paris in a couple of weeks….? 0.o) at the post office on post (hehe). Alas, an appointment was required for such a thing. So we instead went to the Commissary.
As we walked inside the Commissary, it suddenly dawned on me that it had been about nine months since I’d been led through the grocery store. I’d mostly gone grocery shopping by myself, and even when someone came with me, I was the one in the lead…I was in control. And yet now, as my husband was walking through the aisles in ways that I did not, and I was following him instead of just being my own entity, my want for control reared up in my heart and mind and I suddenly thought very poorly of my husband. During this whole time, of course, I know that Jake is doing absolutely nothing wrong, and that my emotional response really has nothing to do with his actions. As he asked me questions about different products and which brand we should get, so on and so forth, I felt like I was in a haze, trying to fight my feelings by myself.
Jake stopped asking questions and looked at me, fully focused.
“You should know that I’m really struggling with control right now, since it’s been a while since I’ve been led through a grocery trip. You’re not doing anything wrong, but just so you know, in case I say something weird or act strangely, I’m fighting the desire to criticize and try and control the situation.”
He grinned, told me that he loved me, thanked me for confessing the feeling, and we moved on. And I didn’t really struggle with control for the rest of the grocery trip. I’d forgotten that was part of how we communicated. We weren’t perfect in our communication, but we know that we’re too different to be lazy in how we communicate. A few people in our lives have mentioned that our method of communication is exhausting, and yet we feel like if we clearly communicate in the little things, then when the big things happen, we’ll be able to communicate well then too.
On our way back from the Commissary, we talked about some relationships in our lives, and as Jake specifically talked about a friend of his that he was struggling with seeing correctly and treating as Jesus treated others, I saw a deep struggle in him. So I got to practice listening and asking questions, and recognized a need for forgiveness in Jake…I’d seen the same need in myself before Jake had come home.
There’s this book called The Peacemaker, which is all about how to biblically handle different kinds of conflict in different life contexts. One of the major principles I got out of it (Jake and I read it before we got married) was this idea of forgiving minor offenses.
“The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.” (Proverbs 19:11)
“He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends.” (Proverbs 17:9)
“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all life.” (Proverbs 10:12)
The author Ken Sande encourages the reader to evaluate what conflicts are actually worth bringing up with others. For example; Jake’s way of putting the toilet paper roll and the fact that it’s different than mine is just not worth bringing up. It would be more loving and more Christ-like of me and better for our relationship if I just changed the way I put the toilet paper roll to match Jake’s. Or, if I unintentionally communicate annoyance with Jake, and he feels like I’m annoyed with him but believes that my intention is that I’m trying to goof around with him (by which he feels very loved and appreciated), then he can within himself, just between him and God, forgive me for hurting him even though I didn’t intend to. Does that make sense? I had to do this before Jake came home from deployment, because I was experiencing this big, fat, feeling of resentment towards him, even though there was no big conflict between us and we’d already thoroughly dealt with any conflict or injury worth bringing up. So what was it? Well, I forgot that part of forgiving minor offenses is actually forgiving them. So I’d decided to not hold them against Jake and not bring them up with him, because they weren’t important in light of eternity, but didn’t take the next step of going to God with my hurt (however small) and asking Him to both heal me of the injury of this small offense, and to forgive Jake for unintentionally wounded me. I spent a solid hour writing out every minor offense I could think of that had built up over time, forgave Jake of all of them, and trusted God, and the resentment I felt was gone.
That being said, I shared this experience with Jake as we drove home from the Commissary, and shared my observations about how he was communicating about this friend and the resentment that he seemed to be struggling with. And I felt really excited and loving about getting to listen to him and ask him questions and help him think through something really difficult.
“Thank you for all of that,” Jake said as we pulled into the driveway to our house. He turned away, hesitated for a moment, and then turned back to me. “Moment of honesty: Could you not wait for me to open your door and let me just do that as a special thing for you?”
Back up. So, what Jake was talking about here is the gentleman’s habit of opening and closing the car door for a lady. The first time I ever experienced this was when I first became friends with Hannah and started hanging out with her family. I remember getting ready to go for a grocery trip (or the like) with Uncle Doug, and going to open my own door, and him half-jokingly saying “What are you doing!?” and walking over to where I was, opening my door, and helping me in. I was so shocked and had no idea what to do with myself. The idea, I believe, is similar to a gentleman’s habit of opening the door to a building for a lady: to communicate “I am deliberately serving you by placing your need to get inside this building/car before my own need.” I know it seems ridiculous in some ways and a bit complicated, but bear with me here. It’s cool.
Jake had at one point communicated that he really wanted to make that a habit with me, opening and closing my car door whenever we went places together. And so, as I considered his homecoming (a few weeks before this moment in the car) and thought about what I might struggle with as far as independence goes and general transitions of submitting to him in daily things, I thought it would be a good discipline to force myself to let him do that and honor his desire: I would not get out of the car or get into the car until he first opened the door.
As we’d been leaving the post office to go to the Commissary, I did this thing; I did not get into the car until Jake opened the door, and there were some weird interactions there that made me feel like he felt like I felt entitled to him opening the door for me, but I didn’t think much of it until this moment as we sat in the car and he described being frustrated and feeling taken advantage of by that expectation.
So, when he said this, I was really confused and kind of hurt (so much for forgiving the minor offenses). This request of his led to a battle in my mind against wanting to storm off and just not talk to him, or, if I did talk to him, do so passive aggressively in a way that made him know he hurt me (because that always works…not), as well as a battle between us of still communicating clearly and respectfully even though neither of us really knew what we were saying. Both of us felt a little rusty in this daily communication.
All the feels.
We walked inside, he started putting groceries away, and I fought with myself, trying to figure out what I’d done wrong. I went to him in the kitchen and started asking him questions.
“I can’t talk about this right now,” he said, holding a jar of sauerkraut.
Pause again. Over the deployment, Jake read this book titled For Men Only, and I had read its counterpart For Women Only. These books were about how the opposite gender seemed to think (“seemed” intending to communicate that men and women are insanely different and God created them to be really complex and not easy to figure out…AND within their genders, there’s different personalities and dispositions and ice-cream preferences and everything…so “seemed” is just what we think we understand based on general observation…the end). Well, in For Women Only, Shaunti Feldhahn communicated that men and women tend to handle conflict differently.
I remembered in this moment of Jake saying “I can’t talk about this right now,” that guys (forgive me and feel free to correct me, gentlemen readers, if your experience is different than what I’m describing) tend to need additional time to mull over things before speaking, whereas women (I think) need to talk through conflict and experience closure more immediately when things are tense. Men crave clarity. Women crave security.
To God be the glory though, as He calmed my heart and pulled me back into His arms even as I reached for Jake’s, reminding me that Jake was not saying “I can’t talk about this ever,” just right now, and he’d be able to talk about it more calmly and more thoroughly, answering all my questions, if I gave him time. It would be good thinking time for me as well. Shortly after, Jake communicated to me that he was grateful for my reading that book; he knew I knew what he was saying when he said “I can’t talk about this right now.” So I backed off, but not before Jake assured me that I’d done nothing wrong. He revealed that his frustration with opening my car door was really not about my communication of entitlement, but because he just selfishly didn’t feel like opening my door at that moment. He then confessed that the conversation about forgiveness had really convicted him, and so to back-handedly get back at me, he made the opening-the-car-door situation at the post office about something I’d done, when it wasn’t about me at all. Which then of course led me to realizing that I had stopped thanking Jake for opening the car door for me, and had not communicated my desire to be disciplined in expecting him to open the door.
More of all the feels.
“He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his peace.” (Proverbs 11:12)
So, though it hurt and it was hard and felt like a bit of a mess, we made sure we each knew we loved each other, and agreed to talk more about it later. And the rest of the afternoon, leading up to Bible study at Anna’s house, was extremely pleasant, though hard won. Both of us were refreshed at Bible study, and it made it easier to see each other correctly again after being around a group of believers who were trying to do the same things we’d been fighting to do all day. After Bible study, a group of us went out to this little pub (this is only my second time ever in my entire life being in anything remotely like a bar) called Paul’s Place to support Chris Munson, a guitarist in Jake’s unit. While there, the conversations were good, darts were played, and Jake and I stayed talking ministry and theology until after midnight.
Leaving Paul’s Place, we drove around and talked. And talked. And talked. Then I really wanted waffles. And so we went to Waffle House. And behold! We’re back at the beginning.
As we ate waffles and drank our hot drinks and let the young morning grow old, I realized that day had been a straight up war for both of us. It’s not that we’d been persecuted or pressured by external things, but the mess was internal. The enemy pulled on our flesh and our pride, we gave into different distractions and got lazy in communicating, and we were still trying to figure each other out again after being separated for so long. And yet, as we drove back home, we felt like friends, like lovers, like allies…we were okay. And we were encouraged by the opportunity to grow in this together, to witness God’s faithfulness in piercing our hearts and sanctifying us through each other as we faced bigger things than what we were working through now, on what felt like a miniature scale, and showing us evermore how much grace we need, and how little we really deserve it. The end.
P.S. Since then, there continue to be many moments of debriefing, laughing, goofing around, crying, apologizing (especially on my part), and figuring things out. Also, Jake has given me full permission to talk about these conversations and has read and edited this particular post, and encouraged me to communicate what God is doing in, through, and around our marriage as we seek to let Him be the point of it all.
“Oh God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.” (Psalm 63:1-2)