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Together on Holy Ground

I put some of my dreams on hold to help my husband realize his—and experienced the presence of God.

I don't know how I fell in love with my husband. It just happened. After 20 years of cautiously dating and agonizing and being afraid to fall for the wrong guy, I dove in headfirst and married David eight months after I met him. Maybe the timing was right. Maybe we were both tired of waiting. I believe it was just meant to be.

Six years later, I still believe it was meant to be. But that doesn't mean it's been easy.

A few months after our whirlwind courtship and wedding, I started seeing the reality of the situation: Our window-frame for having children was short (we were both in our 40s. We had to try now if we were ever going to have kids, and even then the chances were iffy). We weren't getting any younger, so if David wanted to go back to school to change careers (which he had been thinking of doing for years), he had to do it now. I was in a soul-crushing corporate job. I didn't think I could last much longer and my company was offering a voluntary termination offer. I could get three months of severance pay while I built up my freelance writing career again. If I was going to make my escape from corporate America, this was the time to do it.

But how would we swing both changing jobs (and in his case, a whole career) if we had a baby? If he went back to school and I had to work, who would stay home to take care of the said baby? If neither of us could stay at home, how would we afford childcare? And we couldn't put off any of our decisions. The clock was ticking.

Somehow in this perfect storm we muddled along, making decisions as wisely as we could. David started a master's program and got a scholarship that would pay for half the tuition. We saw this as a sign that he was moving in the right direction.

But then things started getting a little chaotic. We were counting on David's lucrative part-time freelance editing job to help us pay for expenses while he was in school. But shortly before he started, he learned that the company he was working for was moving all of the editing work in-house. He quickly found another freelance job, but for one-third of the pay.

I had left the corporate world to freelance, but without David's lucrative editing gig, and with him going back to school, we quickly realized I needed a fulltime job again. So when one of my freelance clients offered me a fulltime job, I took it. But a year later I lost it due to the recession.

I had never pictured myself in this situation. In my 20s and 30s, I had dated accountants (three in a row!) to try to ensure my financial stability. I had also imagined that after years of singleness, once I met the right person and got married everything would fall into place and life would get a little easier. But … no. That didn't happen.

Our money situation was in constant flux. Financially secure, we were not. On top of it all, three years into our marriage, after two miscarriages and a failed fertility treatment, we had moved on to attempt to build our family through adoption. After my layoff and with David not yet finished with school, all of that was on hold.

I was in a constant state of anxiety, and I blamed David.

Money became the big, overriding issue. Even though we had both brought some debt into our marriage, his debt was greater than mine. And to the adoption world, this debt was troublesome.

I continually held that over his head, along with a whole litany of other offenses: Why had he waited until we got married to change careers? And why wasn't he providing for me like my father had? What was wrong with him! And why hadn't he been more diligent with his money before we got married? Now he was in school pursuing his dream but our adoption had to be put on hold until he was finished with school and we paid off our debt, and I couldn't pursue a freelancing career because I felt pressure to support us both.

I had figured everything would just fall into place once I got married. Instead it seemed as if my dreams were falling apart.

As my unemployment, his schooling, and our money troubles went on, my resentment became more pronounced. I often slept on the couch. I stomped around our small two-bedroom condo. I lay awake at night, my mind spinning.

Why did he have to go back to school?

Why isn't he making more money?

Why do I have to support him while he pursues his dream—while I put my dreams of a freelance career and adoption on hold?

If it weren't for him going back to school, we'd have an adopted child by now.

One day I was stomping around our condo in my typical bad mood, thinking about a day filled with looking for work, sending out resumes, and making phone calls. David was in the bedroom getting ready for school.

I realized he was being very quiet, and I walked into the bedroom to see why he wasn't out the door on his way to class already.

I found him sitting on the bed, his head down, staring at the floor. He looked like Eeyore.

"Hey, what's wrong?" I asked—maybe a little too snappishly. "Why aren't you ready to go?"

"You know," he said quietly, "Maybe I should just forget about school and try to find a job that pays a lot of money. I'm just dragging us down …"

He rubbed his forehead. I could sense his turmoil.

I sighed and walked into the room and plopped down beside him on the bed.

I had to be honest with myself—I had thought the same thing. If only he weren't going back to school. If only he had a job that made a lot of money. Maybe I should have married one of those accountants.

But those were just irrational, fleeting thoughts. I knew that was not what I wanted. I wanted to be a parent—but I wanted to be a parent with David. And I want him to be happy in his career. Of course, he would do what he needed to do to make money, but he wasn't the type of person who could exist in a soul-crushing job for the rest of his life. He needed to pursue his passions. And I knew he wanted the same for me—we just couldn't do everything simultaneously. It was practically impossible.

I looked at him and suddenly realized how much my resentment was affecting him. I moved closer to him on the bed until our arms were touching.

"I'm sorry you feel that way," I managed to say quietly. "But that's not what I want. I want to be married to you, whatever happens."

Just saying those words helped me to articulate what I was really feeling—deep down past the irrational thoughts—and also made me realize what I was doing to David.

He was paralyzed by the thought that he had to make more money to make me happy.

I didn't want him to feel that way. I wanted him to be free to pursue his calling. He too felt stressed about our money situation and was trying his best to make more money. He was changing careers so we'd eventually be more financially secure. He was working hard and trying to stick within our budget. Sure, he had made some bad decisions about money in the past, but so had I.

But more than anything, I had to think about what our marriage was about. Was I in this only to get what I wanted and to feel financially secure?

Henri Nouwen writes:

"Marriage is not a lifelong attraction of two individuals to each other, but a call for two people to witness together God's love. The basis of marriage is not mutual affection, or feelings, or emotions and passions that we associate with love, but a vocation, a being elected to build together a house for God in this world, to be like the two cherubs whose outstretched wings sheltered the Ark of the Covenant and created a space where Yahweh could be present …. The real mystery of marriage is not that husband and wife love each other so much that they can find God in each other's lives, but that God loves them so much that they can discover each other more and more as living reminders of God's presence."

At my church, Old Saint Pats, I had been hearing a lot about sacraments. This was a new thing for me. Growing up Baptist, we used the word "ordinance" for baptism and communion. Catholics have seven "official" sacraments, and Protestants typically have two—baptism and communion. But Terry, our minister of adult formation, said that sacraments (with a small "s") can happen anytime we experience God's grace or are a mediator of God's grace. Sacrament is derived from the word "sacred," which means "God is here."

"I love you no matter what, I told David. We sat shoulder to shoulder, and I could feel the warmth of his arm on mine.

That day on the bed, I chose to love my husband more than my financial security—or even my dreams. I don't know how I did it, but God was there. It was a sacrament.

About a year later, David graduated from Northwestern University with an MA in counseling/psychology. It was a sunny, early summer day and a large crowd filled the Millar Chapel on campus to watch the graduates of Northwestern's Family Institute march up the aisle of the chapel to receive their diplomas. I sat in the chapel and looked at the streams of sunlight coming in through the gorgeous stained-glass windows.

The crowd stood up as the graduates marched in, in robes and tasseled caps. I craned my neck to see David.

A month earlier, we had enjoyed dinner with David's supervisor. She had looked at me over the table and said, "You do know what a good therapist he is, don't you?" I was filled with pride. And I got a lump in my throat.

That day in Millar Chapel, it was all worth it—the financial insecurity, the doubts, the struggles, wondering why we were putting him through school. I knew it was the right thing—just to see him finally complete a degree that would give him more options and let him do what he really wanted to do: help people with mental illness and addictions.

Grace. Mediation. Sacrament.

After the ceremony, we took photos and documented the day. We had a party to celebrate, and friends came over.

What is marriage, then, if not loving another person into his or her full potential—even if it means sacrificing your own dreams or security or comfort? If we are truly Christlike, isn't it all joy to lose our lives in order to find them?

I now look at my husband not as a potential money-maker who will solve all of my financial problems. I could have married an accountant for that purpose.

Instead, I look at him with his kind eyes and love how he meets a friend from church for coffee—just because this friend is struggling with unemployment and alcohol addiction. I love how he comes home and tells me he had a successful day treating clients.

Yes, we took on more debt from school loans. We've had to put our adoption on hold. It was a long two years of unemployment and finishing school. But God visited us, and we are standing together on holy ground.

Karen Beattie is a writer living in Chicago, Illinois.

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

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