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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

Good Years and Bad Years

I have to admit that I am willing to garner wisdom from popular movies. Actually that is a bit of an exaggeration. The few pieces of wisdom that come to mind were from movies, but it might be a stretch to name them as “popular.”

One that comes to mind is from one of those meteor-is-going-to-take-out-the-earth flicks. The one with “old”astronauts who are going to save us all. “Space Cowboys” I think it was called. Anyway, when they realize they are going to die, sacrificing themselves for all of mankind to go on, one old-timer reflecting on his married life says to another, “In marriage there are good years and bad years. This was a very good year.”

There are good years and bad years in married life. When I consider it, I know it is true because in our 13 years of marriage, I can name the “bad” years.

For some reason it is safer to put that word in quotes.

Maybe because all of my married life has been a grace and a gift. But some of it was easier and more fun and other parts of it were harder and far more challenging. I suppose the harder, emotionally stretching, more challenging years were the “bad” years.

In retrospect, I realize that all of our bad years (at least from my point of view) included a geographic move and general transition in our community and in our relationship as a couple. For me, there is basically one Bad Year and then a couple others that weren’t great, but weren’t as bad as the Bad Year. More on that in a moment.

The first bad year was actually a-not-so-great couple of months right after we were married. Don’t get me wrong; in many ways it was a super fun, holy-cow-we-get-to-play-house-for-the-rest-of-our-lives-together sort of time. We had a cute little bitty apartment, went on dates, cooked together and had folks over. But in other respects it was a who-the-heck-are-YOU experience of growing into our identities of husband and wife. There were challenges in communication, expectations, figuring out physical intimacy and for a period of time, Joshua had to be on an extended trip for work. Not the best of times.

The Bad Year came about two years later when we moved to Florida for the birth of our first child. The transition out of our youthful small community in rural Alaska to the aged Gulf Coast of Florida would have been pretty challenging on the friendship and community front alone. Add into that becoming first-time parents and it was simply incredibly stressful emotionally.

Joshua and I had to learn completely new ways to communicate. It is pretty darn near impossible for either of us to speak concisely or coherently, let alone gently, when we are sleep-deprived. We had figured out the “husband-wife” identity thing but now we had to figure out the “father-mother” identity thing. We were both learning how to take care of a newborn for the first time and all our energy went into him. There was very little left over for one another. And that was really very hard.

The final (to date) challenging year was when we first arrived in Portland. Again, transition to a new location; no discernable community or connections to draw upon locally; and that fall/winter we had a string of 45+ days straight of rain. That is actually all I can conjure in my mind from that time: darkness, cold and rain. It was tough.

But in some ways, having gone through a tough time before, I feel like we were able to recognize it for what it was: just a temporary state of affairs that would eventually change. Back then, I can remember when we were done with work for the day we didn’t have a thing to do. No friends to connect with, no children’s school obligations…and even then I realized there would be days in the future (now) when I would envy that in many ways.

Through all our transitions and “bad” years, God has been faithful. Like manna in the desert, God provided JUST what we needed, when we needed it. No more and no less. Those bad years weren’t fun times with the best memories, but they were times that we look back on and recognized that we were firmly on our vocational path. The very transitions themselves were often part of the next big step in our journey. They were times we were stretched and the only response was to grow as a couple.

I don’t (can’t) know when our next “bad year” will be. By contrast I know that we are in a stretch of REALLY good years. But regardless, I thank God for EVERY year we have been blessed to have together.