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United but Still Different

My roots are in a well-tended, predictable garden. From the age of two, I lived in the same split-level ranch in the suburbs, attending the same schools until I left for college. As a "cradle Christian," I cut my teeth on a King James Bible and played hide-and-seek behind the pulpit at church. The biggest changes I dealt with were repainting the walls in my bedroom or having a fight with my best friend.

Jeff's childhood garden was a little bit wilder. His family frequently moved—he went to three schools in fourth grade alone—and although he always felt loved, he lived with pulling up stakes and dealing with change. Except for a few passing stabs at church-going, he grew up thinking Sunday morning was for reading the funnies and sleeping in after being out late Saturday night. He lived with the chaotic freedom to decide what lines he wanted to draw and where he wanted to draw them.

As a result, Jeff longed for boundaries and craved order. His baseball cards were rubber-banded by team and year, then alphabetized by the players' last names. It was when a church-going woman in his rural town gave him a scholarship to church camp in Junior High that he learned about God and carved out an identity in his family: Jeff became the conservative one, the boy who followed the rules. His rebellion was becoming the "good kid" and drawing some pretty hard lines around what was right and wrong.

For the record, my own baseball cards were tossed in a shoe box in slap-dash disorder. Dinner at my house on Sundays was a discussion of the sermon in which issues were debated. In this secure environment, I grew to be unafraid of arguing and pushing the limits. It was safe to question because my foundation was bedrock. My parents were teetotalers. "Jesus drank wine," I pressed. "Why don't we?" When my curfew was 10 p.m., I nagged for 10:30. Mom and Dad refused to let me see PG movies and I longed to see the flicks my peers were talking about. But I knew I could strike a rebellious pose in complete safety.

Later in college, I found it exciting to push the boundaries I grew up with. I slept in on Sundays and saw any movie I wanted. As an art major, I shocked my family with my renditions of nudes. Like a tetherball, I kept bouncing out to see how far I could go before I was pulled back to center.

While writing for the campus newspaper I met Jeff. He seemed stable, somehow, but with a hint of the edginess I craved. On the other hand, Jeff saw me as an artist who was a little crazy, but had a solid foundation. Eighteen months later, we tied the knot, oblivious to some of the issues we were bringing to our marriage.

Eighteen years later, we recognize these different paths we took to adulthood impact our marriage in a thousand ways, big and small. His idea of a good conversation is one where peace prevails; I like to rock the boat and throw around outrageous questions. I want to color outside the lines; he wants the picture to look carefully arranged. He votes Republican; I vote all over the map. He wears a jacket and tie to work in an office; I start work in my pajamas as a freelance writer with irregular hours. I want to give our kids more freedom than I had; Jeff, remembering what it was like to not have strong boundaries, slams on the brakes.

Our backgrounds also spill over into our spiritual life as a couple. Sunday mornings, we attend a traditional evangelical church, where I often find myself frustrated with its conservative teachings. My husband is comforted by the strong boundaries it offers. I find my faith to be a solid framework that serves as a jumping off point for questions about God; Jeff finds faith to be the bar on the door that holds back a flood of disorder.

The very things that make up our identities are often at the core of our controversies. And it's this constant tension that sometimes seems to fray our marital bonds to the breaking point. But in Mark 10:6-9, Jesus reminds, " 'At the beginning of creation God "made them male and female." "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.' "

Staying happily married means trusting that the Lord has joined us together and that he is making us one, even when we seem so separate. Part of that "oneness" comes as he helps us understand the frameworks we grew up with and how they impact our marriage.

About fifteen years into our marriage, in the midst of a big blow-up, Jeff asked, "Why do you even want to be married to me?" It was a wake-up call for us. We realized we were angry about the things we valued so much in the first place. After tearful discussions and plenty of trial and error, we started approaching things differently.

I've learned not to say everything that's on the top of my head; Jeff tries to roll with some of the more outrageous things I toss out. I work hard to understand his need for order and peace, especially in the area of housework. I gently nudge him to loosen up when he's too uptight; he's always there to pull me back in when I range out too far. For me, it's no coincidence that the name Jeff means "peacemaker."

Most importantly, we regularly make time to talk and to listen. It might be the walks we take after dinner, the dates we have over coffee, or our regular "debriefing" at the end of a day. He now tells me he loves the "color" I bring into his life, and I remind him how much I appreciate the steady way he takes care of me and our kids.

God didn't promise us a rose garden. And not being particularly partial to roses anyway, I'm kind of glad about that. But by continually working to understand and make compromises, our marriage is able to grow stronger each year—even if we might bloom a little differently. And while it's not all a bed of roses, we've found variety makes the sweetest bouquets.

Cindy Crosby is a freelance writer, and the author of Waiting for Morning (Baker). She lives in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with her husband, Jeff, and their two children.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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