I distinctly remember driving away from my parents’ house the day after our wedding and heading to a cabin on a lake. I was utterly silent - which is not normal for me. My mind was racing, and all that my mind kept saying was: you are no longer Kara—you are now wife, he is no longer Jason—he is now husband. This is forever, and you had sex on your wedding night, so it’s decided. He’s your husband FOREVER. I was panicked. Forever felt so long and so scary. Did we make the right choice? Did we decide well? Did we do this too quickly like some had suggested? Then we came to the Chicago toll road and Jason turned to me and made one of his goofy jokes that unties all my knots. In that moment, I thought: thank goodness I married Jason, because he’s funny, and marriage will need a lot of laughter. I remember speaking truth into those consuming fears: yes, he’s your husband, but look at what a great husband he’s going to be. Look at the joy he brings to life, look at him, it’s going to be okay. You are so blessed to do life right next to this man.
One of the gifts in our early days of marriage was mentors, trusted people who were safe places for us to share our ugly. For us that was Ruth and Steve, two people who loved us unconditionally and taught us the beautiful art of fighting fair in that truly hard first year of marriage.
Our mentors told us that fighting with kindness would help grow confidence in our kids. So we decided to work hard in our fighting. Our mentors talked to us about processing our last fight and talking about how we can do it more fairly the next time. Fighting with your nearest neighbor is going to happen, but fighting with kindness? That’s art. Beautiful art. Slowly, ever so slowly, the fighting became a gentle conversation between two people committed to loving each other well in the face of disagreements.
Jason often says marriage is the fast road to sanctification. Sanctification—the beautiful and sometimes painful refining of a soul, the kindness of God to involve himself in our growth in grace. Marriage is often the beautiful tool he uses to shape our lives and expose our edges. Identifying expectations and idols we both lugged around about what we imagined marriage to be, and facing the reality of what it actually was, honestly looking at those painful, unmet expectations and moving toward one another in love and forgiveness was the hardest living and learning we both had to learn in those young married years. Motivations to hurt were rarely there, but so often our expectations were unmet and tender and led to our most difficult fights.
My dear friend put it well when she said we all carry around within ourselves a cage of rats. The rats are our unkindness, our sin struggles, tensions our personalities bring, and our hardness of heart. We know these rats well. We love some of them, and we hate some of them, but ultimately we work very hard at hiding them from those who know us. For me, it felt like marriage became this moment where I could release the rats—those early years was a testing of the unconditional love of Jason. Not only did he get my morning-grouch rat, he got my slob-in-living rat, my panic-hateful-clean-up-this-mess-someone-is-coming-over rat, my please-always-say-exactly-what-I want-you-to-say control rat. Oh, my blessed, gentle husband looked all my ugly rats in the face and said: Kara, I love you—rats and all. You are mine for always. And slowly, I trusted him. I believed his love, and we worked on the rats. God loves us the same way, but he loves us in such a way that says, I have something better. I can change your heart. I’m not afraid of your rats, but I have a greater joy than these silly hateful creatures that steal the best of life from you.
Do I still have rats? Certainly. Do I use them to fight unfairly? Sometimes, yes. But I know something much greater. I know living next to my guy in gentleness and love is one of the greatest gifts I have known this side of heaven, and I want to live and treasure that love. I want to move past my own unkindness in love, and know the reckless love of Jesus and extend to him that love, that unconditional, always believing the best, full of forgiveness and grace love. There are days that love abounds, and days I cannot find it. But when I’m looking upon my love, the lover of my soul, my eyes grow more clear in my calling to love my guy with all the love I have to give.
This past year has taught us that winning at marriage isn’t what we thought it was. We thought it was being safe together, loving one another in kindness, and meeting the other in moments of ugly with grace and forgiveness extended. We thought it was gentleness, and affection. We were admired for our love spent over coffee and in prayer. Our marriage, full of support and tenderness, was a landing place for many hurting marriages. In a way, we were winning at marriage. But I remember the moment Jason came home this year from a conference. He was quieted by a truth that had impacted him deeply. Before he left for this trip, tumors were found in my uterus, and we were expecting cancer’s return. He said someone was sharing how really loving God meant withholding nothing. I was in my bed looking at him, and he looked at me and wept. I didn’t need to ask him. I knew the deep question of his faith that was being asked. Would he open his hand and withhold nothing, even me?
He is sleeping deeply beside me now. The ebb and flow of his breathing is a comfort. I have been battling a fever for a week. There was a fever before this one and some pain. I want to wake him with my tears to have him comfort me and tell me it’s not cancer’s return, but I know he’s weary from the day of doing both of our roles—mama and daddy. And at the heart of marriage, he can love me, he can hold me, he can comfort and walk next to me through the valley of the shadow of death, but he cannot save me. So tonight, maybe this once, I will let him sleep. My Savior is not unaware of my pain.
Excerpt adapted from The Hardest Peace (©2014 David C Cook – used with permission).
Kara Tippetts is the wife of one excellent man and the mother of four amazing children. She supports her husband, Jason, as he is planting a church in Colorado Springs. Her story was dramatically changed in 2012 when Kara was first diagnosed with cancer. She has shared honestly the painful journey of walking through suffering and looking for Jesus through her increasingly popular blog, www.mundanefaithfulness.com. She lives for the graces of time, time with loved ones, time spent building community and sharing her story of living life in grace.
Publication date: January 12, 2015