Friday, August 24, 2012

Reflecting on 24 Years Ago

This is not a story Clint and I have shared with many until now. It's not that we are ashamed of how we were married, but it does not speak well of our family. We want people to learn from what we have experienced so they can have better relationships. People say we have the "fairy tale" marriage and family. Remember every fairy tale has a dark side. This also explains why we did not have a wedding. Clint and I were 16 when we started dating, and we knew within months it was forever. We started telling people after we graduated we planned to marry.

     Twenty four years ago on August 24, Clint and I, at age 19, went to the Justice of Peace and had a civil ceremony.  After lengthy discussions and praying for months, it seemed the best course of action. His family took swipes at me verbally every chance they could. I would speak and be ignored. I'd walk into the room and the conversation would stop, and I'd be stared at, or they'd sigh like they were sorry I came back. They would talk bad about me in front of my friends who warned me I was in a "bed of vipers." Everything I did was interpreted as a hateful action towards them when I was greatly desiring love and acceptance. I had a very low self esteem. Their hostility further eroded my confidence and caused me to do all I could to avoid encounters with them. I am not in any way claiming I was perfect, but I did seek counsel from my parents on how to handle the hostility. I ignored most things to the point I would have to go to the bathroom and cry. Once, I asked my father to come pick me up so I could get away from it.

     My family did not enjoy being around his because of how they had been treated.  After we married, some of the rudeness aimed at my family was caught on video tape, so we knew then their previous concerns were real and not imagined or contrived. At the time though, it made things very hard for us especially when we were told "Don't have us over when they are over. We've had enough!" Oh, how we agonized over our family issues! .

     We did not see how we could keep both sides happy for a ceremony. We were already having to cater to special demands, snippy comments, and control tactics. Most of the time we dated, we spent away from our families because if one side heard we were at the other's house, it made it worse. Inviting one side or the other to a wedding seemed wrong. So we decided to leave them all out. It was not a decision we made lightly.

     We explained to the Justice of the Peace who married us a little of what was going on and told him we were Christians. He loudly told us he could only perform a civil ceremony. Then he closed his office door so the ladies working outside could not hear. He counseled us and prayed over our marriage with us. God puts the right people in the right place at the right time. We could feel the Lord in the room. On August 24, 1988, in that little office, he married us. It was intimate, genuine, simple, and without drama. Mr. Murdock told us we did the right thing and said he would keep praying. Off we went to tell our families how very happy we were! We look back on those moments with him very fondly.

     We stopped at my home first because Clint wanted to see if my Dad would let him borrow his truck. While they knew we were planning to marry, my parents were still a little surprised but very delighted. They immediately called Clint their son. He was embraced several times and offered anything he needed to help him move into our new home. My father offered his truck to Clint without being asked. Both of us wondered then if we had done the wrong thing. Maybe a wedding would have went OK after all. Maybe our parents could have celebrated with us and not brought drama to a ceremony. We only doubted our decision for the seven minute drive to Clint's house.

     When Clint told his mom, I was falsely accused of being pregnant and that my parents had been in on it because my father had forced Clint. It was hinted that my "well off" parents paid Clint. It was screamed that had to be the only reason Clint would marry me. We discovered his mom had already been spreading gossip about me being pregnant soon after Clint told her he planned to marry me weeks earlier. This was very embarrassing to me. She said Clint would soon "wake up," and the marriage "will not last six months." She would be rid of me then. She said our marriage was cursed because it was not held in a church. I was accused of being the reason Clint didn't go into the military or college. (My father co-signed a loan at Clint's request. Clint had tubes in his ears, which she knew, I was not pregnant, and he was enrolled in college at the time she said it.)

     With Clint as my witness, the only thing I said in response was to Clint. "If that lady is going to keep yelling at me, I want to go home." My mother's advice was to not fuel the situation, but to remove myself from it. That just netted another spewing of venom. Neither Clint or I said anything else. We left. It was later claimed I said all sorts of things in response to her as she widely spread the story. I prayed and cried and railed at God. I was heartbroken, angry, and worried what others thought. I resolved to stay clear of his family as much as I could to keep the peace and avoid the constant criticism. This made them angrier, but I was not going to make myself an easy target. I do not claim I was perfect, but I did all I could to limit contact to try to keep the peace. I very rarely* stood up for myself and chose avoidance instead. When I was around them, I made sure Clint was always present so no one could say I did or said something I did not do. I asked Clint to do this shortly after we started dating. This kept my marriage intact when false accusations started years later.

     In 1992, it started being aimed at our newborn son. Soon after, Clint, desiring to protect his family, distanced himself further. Stories were made up about things he said and did to her even though he had not been around her to do those things. We made many efforts to reach out to her and repair the relationship over the years, but each was rebuffed. Birth announcements granted us nasty comments. Godly counsel told us softening her heart towards us was not our job. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.  As far as we know, she died still angry with us because she never responded favorably to any effort we made, and we made many. 

     We later found out she had been telling people stories about us. This concerned us for our testimony and for the family name our children would inherit. It took many years for us to find out, but people told us they did not believe what was being said at the time because it was so out of character for both of us. That was an answered prayer! God kept our testimony intact despite efforts to destroy it. We look back on all of those years of praying about it and realize God had answered them before we uttered them!

     Telling his mother was not a pleasant experience, but God used it to erase all doubts in both of our hearts. We had done the right thing. It is a decision Clint and I have seen reaffirmed many times over the course of our marriage including the pain filled experiences in the recent year. Following God's lead kept those precious moments stress free. We can look back to that quiet time in the JOP's office and rejoice in God's protection and provision! We would have not had that precious experience if we had had a wedding. Most likely, we would have had calamity! Mr. Murdock caring enough to offer godly counsel and pray with us was the best part of the day. A stranger did for us what no one else would. 

     We look back to those difficult days as a young couple and believe God allowed it to move us to where we are now as a family. I do not believe I could have homeschooled our children with my self-confidence constantly being cut away by a sharp tongue  Clint would not have grown into the strong leader he is today. We believe God works all things for good to those who love Him. 

     Now, we and our peers are at the age where our children are soon to choose mates. We see some of you lashing out at the choices your children are making. We decided to share our story to encourage you to learn from our experience and show God's love and grace to whomever your child chooses and extend it to everyone in their family. If you can't get along, keep a focus on the future and control yourself for the brief times you are with them. If it seems impossible, ask yourself if this area of contention is worth having a broken family. 

     If you want to be included in their lives, you need to maintain the relationships. It is not your right because you raised them. It is a privilege. They shouldn't have you around because they feel obligated by blood, but want you there because you are someone they enjoy. They shouldn't have to choose to distance themselves from you to protect their family. Couples who want to live a life of peace and quiet do not embrace hostility, criticism, attention needy people, or drama. We are called to build each other up. You should be an asset, not a hindrance, to the joyful and peaceful life God has called them to live.

Father, thank You for our wonderful marriage and joy filled home. Thank you for that blessedly quiet and uncomplicated time in Mr. Murdock's office and for his concern for us. We are so grateful for all You have done. We have agonized over how to best share this story. It is not our goal to disparage Clint's mother, but to help others avoid estrangement in relationships. We hope it shows Clint's family members there is more to the story than what they have heard and assumed. Let those with a heart for You see our true intentions here. Let them see our hearts for You and for this family. Please take it and work Your will in the lives of those who read it. Please bless them with strong relationships that endure. Please let it bring glory to You. 

*Clint and I can remember two times I stood up for myself. At 19, I did not have the emotional or spiritual maturity or relationship skills needed to handle those situations with an appropriate godly response. I reacted in frustration and anger at the open rejection and harsh judgment of a woman I honestly wanted to love me. When I say I loved her and still do, I say it with honesty. When you pray for someone as God directs, He changes YOUR heart. That's the blessing of obeying Him. When I remember my MIL, I choose to remember the good.It is hard sometimes because she didn't give me much to work with, but that is how I choose to remember her. 

This is the LORD's doing, and it is wonderful to see.  – Psalms 118:23