As a young wife, I often see pictures of others' elaborate weddings and exotic honeymoons, but I reminisce about a cement-walled hallway. I hear people talk about being blessed with great children, and I have none. I listen to stories of romantic evenings watching sunsets and mornings with breakfast in bed, while I dream of an extra kiss stolen in secret. I see couples who own big houses and expensive cars; I do well to live paycheck to paycheck. How can I possibly have a good life when I lack so much that other young wives have? Does life have a silver lining when your husband is locked in prison, serving a life sentence for the murder of his drug dealer?
If you let it, joy can slip through your grasp in the twinkling of an eye, especially when your life goes down a path exactly opposite the one you expected and planned for yourself. When I was a girl I dreamed of a handsome prince, a stellar job, and model children. I just knew I would have that "good life" so many others have talked about and longed for. Little did I know I would end up with a great life without so much of what people traditionally think the good life requires.
When I was 20, I moved to Florida to work as a youth leader for the summer, living with a man and wife whose children were both grown and out of the house, the son making his home in a prison cell. At the time my thoughts and energy were consumed with leading the youth ministry, but something tugged at my heart with every mention of my host family's son, David. I began writing to this man in prison after my hostess, his mother, told me how much he loved to receive mail. As a college student away from home myself, I understood the sheer exhilaration of opening the mailbox to find any kind of written connection to home. Plus, the Bible says we are to remember and reach out to prisoners, so why not?
I hesitate to say it was love at first word, but we felt an immediate connection, a bond that differed from anything either of us had ever felt. I knew there was something special about this man when he taught me to see society's outcasts as the true children of God they are.
David became a Christian at an early age but ignored the nudging of the Holy Spirit and found himself consumed by a life of illegal drugs and violence, inevitably resulting in a horrible altercation where another man lost his life. God, in perfect balance of justice and mercy, allowed David to go to prison in order to save his life, and there he began the process of spiritual healing.
Through David's words I recognized him as a son, a father, and a child of God instead of a crime and a state sentence. Our letters turned into phone calls, and those advanced to our first face-to-face visitation. Nine months after our first phone call I got my first taste of prison and the life God was calling me to live. I knew I loved David when I could say in all honesty I wished it was me locked up for life instead of him. I would have traded my life and my freedom for him to have his, and that's when I learned the true meaning of unconditional love.
While the thought of this life scared me, I recognized God's touch all over our story. My childhood dreams collided with God's plans, and the ensuing fireworks could have given any July 4th show a run for its money. I'd never before experienced the depth of confusion I felt during that time. My childhood vision of the "good life" didn't align with the path I knew God was taking me down. After all, we were facing a life sentence, and he wouldn't serve it alone. There was no logical way to justify choosing such a life.
My family understandably struggled with this relationship because for them it also meant fading dreams. There would be no fancy wedding to plan, no husband at home to protect me, and no traditional life for anyone involved. David's family knew me as their friend before I became the love of their son's life, yet they had the same questions and doubts as my family. However, they also knew their son would be better off, having someone to love and receive love from in return. How could he lose with me?
Most important, both families saw the bigger picture, and while it wasn't necessarily their wish, they placed their hope and trust in God as he wrote a love story unlike anything anyone had planned. One thing is certain: I learned what total dependence on God truly means. God has a way of tearing logic out of our lives in order to require us to simply listen and follow. With so many voices trying to give me direction, it was nearly impossible to discern the voice of truth, but it was there and it didn't waver, even when I did.
Some people in my life accepted my decision to marry David, some said I was settling, and others refused to acknowledge it. The rest thought I was crazy to marry a man in prison, and maybe I was, but people called Noah crazy for building the ark back in his day, too. He made the right decision and listened to God, and he was blessed as a result of his obedience. My situation has been no different. I can focus on all the people calling me crazy and on all the things I don't have, or I can focus on the evidence that marrying a man in prison has completely changed me for the better. Hebrews 11:7 says Noah "received the righteousness that comes by faith" not only because he believed but also because he acted obediently in response to God's will for his life. Obedience leads to a type of freedom not even cement walls and barbed wire can suppress.
Almost three years after my world was turned upside down, I had a ring on my finger, and I understood the depth of love in a way I never knew existed. My husband wasn't a prince on a white horse; he was stuck in a prison uniform behind barbed wire. I didn't get the exotic wedding or honeymoon, but the preacher who married us did wear a Hawaiian shirt! I don't have a fancy house or car, but I have enough money to get me through every day. I may not go to bed each evening with my husband, but I don't have to worry about his dirty underwear on the floor either. Hey, maybe that silver lining is there after all!
Words like "good," "bad," "happy," and "pain" are relative. I have learned it is not about having the good life, but the good perspective. I cannot control my situation, but I can control how I handle it. There are so many lenses through which I can look on a daily basis. If I use a magnifying glass, the negative gets blown out of proportion and joy takes a backseat. Sunglasses only make life look dark, so I fail to see hope when I wear them. Rose-colored glasses may sound good, but they provide an unrealistic view that may eventually come back to bite me. Wearing those lenses is dangerous. I have realized I can let my eyes tell me what they see, or I can do the opposite and tell my eyes what I see. That's perception, and that's how silver linings appear.
In Philippians 4:8, Paul writes, "Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Paul didn't promise days without pain, lies, attacks, and various other things that try to steal our joy, but he did tell us that peace comes when we look past them and dwell on the good, on the holy. In my life, I can choose anxiety, fear, and doubt, or I can choose acceptance, understanding, and perseverance.
I'm not the poor young woman married to the man who is never coming home. Rather, I'm the faithful young wife praying for the miracle that will bring her husband home. People call it many things—making lemonade out of lemons or seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty. I simply like to see it as being a hostage of hope. We all have some person, situation, or mindset that has the potential to kidnap our joy and blindfold us to keep us from seeing God's goodness. We can be hostage to it, with fading thoughts of victory and freedom, or we can be hostages of hope, truly binding ourselves to God's promises. Life may hold you in some kind of prison, but if you have hope, there is something to live for, something waiting around the corner that will make you say, "This is the good life!"
Holly Mickler is a middle school teacher in Tampa, Florida.
Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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