What I’ve *not* learned in marriage

This is the finale of a little series on marriage. Start at the beginning here.


  1. How to make firm decisions in his absence
  2. How to enjoy giving him gifts of really-boring-guy-stuff-that-he-knows-he’s-getting-because-he-picked-it-but-he-still-wants-badly
  3. How to stop talking when we’re on a date
  4. How to spend without guilt the money he earned for us
  5. How to make excuses for his family as easily as I do for mine
  6. How to accept his (rare) corrections without excuses, anger, or tears
  7. How to live without him, even for relatively short periods of time
  8. How to graciously allow him to change
  9. Or not change
  10. How to know when the joke is not funny

So yeah, I still have my work cut out for me.

The End

What I’ve learned in marriage: to worship

Confession: It took me a long time to circle around to the most basic marriage secret of all. I don’t mean here on my blog. I mean in actual living.

If my marriage is to be successful (radiant, life-giving, and permanent), I have to believe my husband is the best thing since sliced bread.

NO DUH. That’s why I married him, right? But sometime soon after the honeymoon sea breezes (and sometimes during), there’s an entire boatload of reality checks waiting for both of you. You can’t live for weeks and months and years with another human without plunging deep into the good, the bad, and the ugly.

She doesn’t like to be told what groceries to buy. He can’t stand when she uses his tools. She wishes to goodness that he’d dress up like he did when they were dating, and think about something other than sex. He wonders if she always leaves socks strewn around like this, and what’s to become of the tub with all that hair going down the drain.

Marriage is hard work. Marriage is exactly designed to rub the bloom off the romance and make that lovey dove sit up and face the music. The loud, annoying music at 3 am. (Oh wait, that’s him snoring.) The hardest work of all is to keep believing in love, to keep polishing it fresh and clean and sweet, to keep remembering that you are the luckiest kid in the world to be waking up every morning beside this amazing person with a bedhead.

I’m not trying to be flippant. I know what I’m talking about, and it’s not easy. Our marriage has had times so painful that I didn’t know if we’d make it through, months when love felt like death. I know what it’s like to wish you’d never given your heart to this man to hurt.

One of the best wedding sermons I’ve heard was in Washington state, by a preacher whose name I’ve forgotten. He stood before the bride and groom and talked about the impossibly solemn vows they were about to take – to really do this thing – “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.” It’s CRAZY, he said. It’s the kind of thing you would shiver to bind yourself to under normal circumstances. But while she’s loopy with love and has no idea what she’s getting into, she’ll look into his eyes and giggle, “Of course I’ll do all those things.”

Infatuated feelings of love are like training wheels, he said. They help you learn to drive right.

Those first giddy feelings won’t last the marriage, but after a while you’ll get the hang of this thing. There are entire levels of stunt driving that the newlyweds haven’t dreamed of. We don’t say “it gets better” just to trick them. It really. gets. better. There is nothing so exhilarating and satisfying as living with love for years and years – past the stress points and into the joy again, never giving yourself to another, putting all your eggs in this one basket forever, and being full-on certain that you are safe and known and beloved. It is riotous; there is nothing like it, folks.

But you must keep your balance, and you must keep peddling.

So when the marriage is a little wobbly and you’re not sure you remember how to steer, pretend you’re back in love kindergarten. Lay down all the scorn and the defenses. Meet him at the door with a hug. Take a little time to talk. Change the light bulb yourself. Write a sweet note. Cook his favorite food. Hide a chocolate on his pillow. Give him the better shovel [wink]. Anticipate your evenings together. Brag him up to a mutual friend. Take some extra minutes to iron that shirt. Scent the house with fresh coffee when he comes home. Use less words, more touch. Buy the kind he likes. Make it all about him.

I know, I know what I’m saying and how psychotic it sounds when you’re walking through disillusionment or pain. But someone has to start this process, and Jesus said that when you lay down your life you find it. Fake it till you make it, honey; the happiness will come back.

Once you have given yourself to this man before God and these witnesses, your path to joy lies through reverencing him, and it is best done with your body. I am talking about romantic intimacy, and I am talking about it as a conduit for more, and I would appreciate if you don’t pass out on me. Act out your love in ways both of you can see and feel and taste and hear. Put some sparkle in your eyes. Above all, give him access to you. He needs to know he’s accepted, and enough. You need to know you’re beloved to the core. The more completely you offer yourself to him, the deeper your love can grow.

There is pain that damages intimacy, and for it there are no easy fixes. But lovemaking is an integral marriage-building device. It is the highest act of human devotion, next to worship and inseparable from it, one of the portals where humans access the divine. It requires the mind and spirit to participate in what the body is doing: to give unselfishly, entirely, unequivocally, until death do us part. It heals holes in the heart. It teaches the emotions to dance again. It shows how the abdication of self and the fulfillment of self are one and the same. If you belong to Jesus, every act of love for your husband is an act of worship for Christ.

Love with abandon. And soon you’ll remember why you thought he was amazing. He’ll be that amazing, and you’ll be the luckiest kid in the world.


* If you could not read this post without pain because of loss, betrayal, or loneliness, please x out of this blog and call up a friend you trust to listen well. You don’t have to walk your path alone. xo

* On a lighter note, and just for the record, my man doesn’t snore. The other examples given about groceries, tools, socks, and drains are likewise purely fictitious; any resemblance to real persons either living or dead is highly accidental and probably a figment of your imagination. I would be happy to share our own factual examples with you, but regrettably, they are protected by the Official Secrets Act of 2003. Sorry.

What I’ve learned in marriage: to give sometimes

Once upon a time, in our early years of sharing a name and a home, Ryan and I concocted the Ultimate Telling Question about marriage.

Let’s say that the mister and missus are going outside to dig in the yard. Maybe she needs a new flowerbed, or maybe the septic system is acting up again. One of their two shovels is a little unwieldy; the other is the perfect size, strong and reliable, with a comfortable handle grip.

WHO GETS THE BETTER SHOVEL?

We came at this point to an impasse, because in our families of origin the answer was obvious. And opposite.

In Ryan’s family, his mother would have offered the better shovel to her husband (of course!), because he is the king of their castle. She is a helper well suited to her husband, coming alongside him in his work. In my family, my dad would have offered the better shovel to his wife (of course!), because he is a gentleman. He treats his lady with deference, showing honor to her as the weaker vessel. Both families have a strong Scriptural precedent on their side.

Did you know that men and women can come to marriage with very different expectations? And that the longer they are held, the touchier they become? It got to the place that Ryan couldn’t stick his head in the door to ask for a drink of water without me feeling put upon and treated like a doormat.

Sometimes we wonder what would have happened if the Coblentz half of our marriage had been masculine and the Zook half had been feminine. We might have had the most mutually sacrificial, boring marriage in the history of ever; except we’re human too, and we’d have managed to mess it up somehow.

But listen now – The most important phrase in that whole scenario is the one most easily overlooked. I said one of the spouses “would have offered.” With joy. Would have come into the situation with the expectation of giving. The longer we looked at that posture, the more beautiful it became, and we both wanted a share in it. Happiness came to this Zook-and-Coblentz-match-of-differing-expectations when we decided that in our marriage, it would go either way. Many couples have found harmony on one side of the question or the other, including our beautiful parents – but for us, there would be no “of course.” In the most extreme sense: I don’t have to kowtow to a heap big man; he doesn’t have to indulge a queen. We are heirs together of the grace of life.

These days, sometimes he offers me the better shovel and sometimes I offer it to him (though I often suspect I’m getting the better end of the deal). It’s sort of funny now.


Ryan and I have a deep respect and gratitude for all four of our parents. Each set has grown in love together for 45 years – a miraculous and incredible legacy.

Love

Confession: One of the reasons I can get away with tweaking my man so much on this site is that he has a great appreciation for sarcasm and humor. And the other is that I secretly adore him.

Though I am bold in telling others to pursue it, love itself is to me a deeply personal thing, savored with one man and not spoken of easily to others. He is the sun, moon, and stars to me, and he knows it. That is all.

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It turned out that he did most of the Valentine planning himself: a date night swap with friends. (Would you keep our kids one night so we can go out, and we’ll keep yours the next?) We talked our way through a delicious dinner, and then came home to roses and chocolate, cheese and crackers, and a Zook party of two.

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Sometimes at night I dream that I am Unchosen, and I wake to gratitude that I get to begin and end each day with someone I love, until death do us part. There is much to be said for this—no matter how flawed I am, or he is. We are together: and I bless Jesus.

Some of you have not known this love (yet), and some of you have known it to turn false. This is a hurt beneath my joy, and one of the reasons I do not often speak of it.

You have never been Unchosen. Don’t say that lie to yourself or let others wave it over you. You are beloved in Christ, chosen by Him, celebrated, cherished, never alone. Let your sorrow soften you. You don’t have to be brave all the time, but oh, I know how often you are… the conscious choice you make to cheer for a friend who celebrates new love, the pain you do not show the world. You are loved. Write it in soap on your bathroom mirror. Say it to yourself when you go to bed, when you wake in the night, when you rise up in the morning. You are loved, you are loved, you are loved.

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And to those who are married?

Love.

I am sure of one thing: love is what will heal us and the broken places in our world. We must soak ourselves in it, and drink great draughts of it, and hand it in tall glasses to friends and strangers. Love is often a waiting, when we wish for something stronger to kick us and the world into action. Love seeps into the quiet places and changes hearts, heals old wounds, offers hope for a new day.

We survive this world, change this world, taste this world, outlive this world, redeem this world by loving, our best love a little current inside the great ocean of His.

Love.
-Shari

Valentine ideas needed: gifts for guys

Confession: It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, and once again I am coming up short on ideas for a gift for The Boss.

rose

Birthdays and Christmas, I’ve found ways to shop that bring great joy to both of us. (Best of all is to poke his buddies for suggestions on fire gear or tech gadgets, and pull off a surprisingly savvy gift in a field I know little about.) But on Valentine’s Day I don’t plan to spend a lot of money; I just want to get him something small and sweet. Is there a masculine equivalent for flowers and chocolate??

[Oh right. Lingerie.]

I could buy him a bottle of cologne.

I could bake him a meltingly wonderful pie.

I could ditch the traditional gift route and go with the love language route: time or words or acts of service.

But none of these feel quite right for 2015. I’ve done them before.

What are you doing for your sweetheart this year? If you don’t have a sweetheart but have a good idea, share that too. I could use all the creativity you have.

*****

Aside to The Boss: No comment reading until after February 14, please. On the honor system.