Last week my firefighter and I celebrated a sweet 10 year anniversary and I wrote this post:  A True Love Story.

We slipped away for 14 hours alone thanks to my parents who watched the kids.   Waking up to peace and quiet and not having to get out of bed was just so perfect.   And we just kept sighing and smiling.  TEN YEARS!  We always wanted it but could never imagine the day.  The road was not easy.

But this post almost didn’t get written.   The enemy is giving me lots of resistance which is a sign…..this is a message that others need to hear.  I hope it continues to be an encouragement to you.

There’s no way to explain how amazing true love is without airing some more of our dirty laundry.  It makes me cringe and feel a little vulnerable but this morning (last week now actually as I’ve sat on this post for that long!)  I had breakfast with a blogger friend whom I met online.   She’s a really transparent blogger and it’s comforting to know we’re all human and in every home there is a little (or a lot) of relational junk.  My heart is telling me to share because some reader needs to hear this (and it is all approved by my husband!)   And….we are quite transparent people.  Which either makes us perfect for a reality TV show or a blog.   You’re stuck with our blog.

 So…. we were married.  And pregnant.  (And then on bed rest.)  And learning to be a blended family.

I was pretty much a hormonal mess and he was a guy who went from single firefighter stud to insta-family in less than a year.

Only a year before, he had spent 4 out 5 nights at a firehouse and was now tied to the house with a three year old step son and a 7 week preemie newborn.  Insta-family.

To add to the newlywed drama, my placenta abrupted on an incredibly cold, icy December night while he was 45 minutes away at the firehouse.   We were the emergency of the month at the podunk small town hospital when med flight told Dan they wouldn’t fly me to the city because I’d deliver at altitude.  Then the young (noticeably frightened) resident OB told him she’d save the mother before she saved the baby.   It’s moments like these you see someone’s true heart and make forever decisions.

The emergency c-section is a story in and of itself.  I saw our new 4 lb 10 oz baby girl for 3 minutes all wires and tubes in a NICU transporter while I was still unable to move after surgery.  My finger gently caressed hers and she was whisked away to Children’s Hospital 45 minutes away.   My husband was mesmerized by this perfect tiny baby and transformed into protector mode instantaneously.  His eyes moved between me and baby frantically.  “Do I go with the baby?  Do I stay with my love?”  It may have been the first time in his life that my combat experienced marine and rescue certified firefighter / medic felt completely helpless.

I sometimes wonder if our marriage would have survived if we didn’t have that baby girl.

Of course it’s not for us to decide or know or even ponder.  I trust God and all his plans.  But if history is any indicator, without the bond of fatherhood, I fear my papa lion would have fled.  Run off and started over when things got too tough, repeating patterns of his youth.

We have joked that our unplanned pregnancy brought his kryptonite that resisted the flight and held our marriage together….his kryptonite is his own flesh and blood in the form of a baby girl named Maya Lei.   No matter how difficult things got between the two of us, there was always that sweet baby girl.  And for her, he would do the right thing and love her Mama.

You see, our relationship at that point was far from where it is today.  It was fraught with jealousy, trust issues, angry outbursts and the silent treatment.  But the way that Dan loved me over shadowed those challenges.   He treated me like a queen and was such a protector.    Everyone could see it and my friends and family, having watched the challenges in my first marriage, were in love with the way that Dan loved me and my son Jackson.

I married him for his big heart.

He treats little old ladies like princesses speaking kind, gentle words to them.  He truly enjoys playing with kids and could never work at Children’s Hospital for it would break his heart.  He’s moved to tears telling me about the poor living conditions of families in his district.  And he spends time on church missions caring for the poor and needy.   His love language is verbal and he word gushes on me more than I ever deserve.

But he’s human.  And a man.  And full of testosterone that’s necessary to do the kind of job he does.  And he gets stressed.  And lacks sleep.  And is slightly hypoglycemic which makes him a total grouch when he’s hungry.  And he never learned how to “fight fair”.

Then he has to deal with me.  Slight control freak.  Over sensitive with lots of past relational baggage.  Direct, straight shooter, who is not careful enough with my words.  A bulldozer who plows through projects pushing people to the side.   An over reactor, the sky is falling, this must be the end of the world, worrier.   Who has way different parenting philosophies than single guy turned insta-dad.  (Imagine that.)

It. Was. Not. Pretty.

The years rolled on and the babies continued to multiply.  Baby #3 came only 19 months after Maya.  By then we’d moved closer to the city and our work, were remodeling a fixer-upper and running our own business.   The successes were so sweet and the challenges so bitter.

Don’t believe me?  Maybe you can relate to some of these real life tid bits.

  • He’d leave for the station at 6 am and I’d be standing at the door crying with a saggy diapered toddler on my leg and a newborn on my hip giving him a major guilt trip for not spending 5 more minutes at home instead of wanting to rush in to the station to have breakfast with his crew.
  • He’d go all day at the station without calling me only to finally connect and spend the time on the phone with me bitching about him not calling all day and how did I know he was ok?
  • He got in a major huff on Mother’s Day (not just one but the first4 I think but who’s counting?).  One of them happened to be a Mother’s Day he was leaving for fire school, and was so mad, he did not call me for the whole week.  Major passive aggressive punishment for someone who likes 2 or 3 check ins a day.
  • We went to a Saturday morning marriage retreat just down the street at our church, got in a fight during the retreat and he stormed out walking himself home with me chasing and screaming at him the entire way.  (neighborhood drama!)
  • The first day I went back to work and left him home with the 3 year old and 12 week old, he called me with the angry voice the moment I got to my desk with that frantic newborn inconsolable panting cry.   I turned around and came home stressed about leaving my engineering career and raising this growing family on one tiny firefighter income.
  • Twice, we were so angry at each other for weeks at a time that we couldn’t even figure out how we were pregnant (again!)
  • We’d have unhealthy fight patterns.  He’d get so angry he’d leave the house for hours with no contact (once right before we were hosting our church bible study group during which I cried the whole time because he walked out like that).  He’d come home with a glare in his eye to get his fire gear only and leave for the station.  Not a look.  Not a word.  Definitely not a touch.  I’d write long email novels dissecting exactly what emotional wound we were exposing and exactly how we were to communicate better.  He’d ignore it.  I’d pester with more ext messages.  No reply.  Eventually he’d soften up and life would speed back up to normal.  No apologies.  Just another straw on the camel’s back.
  • He’d be upset about something (probably just getting hyperglycemic from not eating as we know now) and misplace the anger on me.  I’d go into mommy survival mode and just focus on the kids, the kids, the kids, and then walk on eggshells around him to avoid setting off the fuse.
  • He turned down 2 major opportunities to leave for bigger departments with more officer opportunities because it would mean another 6 months in fire school and $30k pay cuts.   And then we’d have lengthy battles over not being able to pursue the career of his dream because of the kids, or my career or poor financial decisions.
  • Somewhere between baby #2 and #3, we started a trucking business with a partner who ended up in rehab (and is now a saved, clean God-loving man!  Praise God!).  But its a bit stressful on the marriage to lose major money in a business start up.  By then we were fighting over $5 cups of coffee.
  • And how about shared parenting scheduling with the ex-husband.  Enough said.  Try doing that around a firefighter schedule with a scathing ex.
Maybe you can relate to this.  Maybe you can’t and your challenges are different.  But I don’t think it’s said enough.

This picture perfect family is (occasionally) a train wreck.  And that folks, is normal life.

I can’t give you an exact time and date when things got “better”.   But they have in various seasons.  If you ask us right now, we’d say we’re at the top of our game (so far!)   Just last fall, we were quite a mess.  Dan was thinking back to his Marine Corps roots and considering being a civilian contractor in Iraq.  I was stressed out with too much work.  And our oldest started middle school and was experiencing some medical challenges we never expected.  The tipping point was our biggest fight EVER.  In front of the kids.  Major fail.

Here’s the secret sauce.   Love never fails.  1 Corinthians 13.

It only takes one person to soften their heart and lead with love.  Whether you are Christian or Muslim or Jew or Atheist, I do not think can argue with this statement.  But for us, I believe the love of Christ is what has made all things possible in our marriage.  Two faulty sinful humans are simply not strong enough on their own.  It is only by the grace of God that we have been blessed with this marriage.

I have friends who have endured far worse in their marriages but with their forever commitment and their love, have built their happily ever after.  Alcohol and drug abuse.   Affairs.  Emotional abuse.  Job loss.  Bankruptcy.  Death of a child.

We will fight again and it might be ugly.  But we resist it more and more as the love grows stronger.   And every victory in our marriage brings more strength and maturity.  Love Never Fails.

Next (I won’t commit to when except for saying “soon”) I will share some more specifics of practical ways  we worked through the challenges (love tanks, our policy of enthusiastic agreement and yes, even counseling).  The final post…

A True Love Story:  Happily Ever After (Click here)

6 Weeks to a Better Marriage

Check out Part 3 of the “A True Love” series HERE!

Take a 6 week journey with Marriage on Fire, our 6 week, self-paced, video series marriage program.  You’ll hit topics like Commitment, Connection, Confidence, Communicate, Compassion and Community. Do you want to remember when and rekindle those flames?

Marriage on Fire is designed to be a journey to take together that strengthens your marriage whether you are a rookie or “experienced” at marriage. It’s designed especially for first responders, by a firefighter and his wife who have been through both the hot sparks and the tough fires of marriage.

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On a mission to be and inspire us all to be better humans, to strengthen fire families & marriages, to nurture and encourage fire wives, do "good business" in all areas of my life and of course, love on my 4 kids.