11. Slow But Steady
It took me several years to
recognize Mary's commitment to change.
When giving her testimony, Mary has often said that she was 95 percent of the problem in our marriage. I used to think that was true, but I'm not sure anymore.
One thing is certain--at least she was the first one to make a decision to change. Here is how she describes it:
"I desperately wanted to change. I wasn't sure where to begin, but I knew that God was aware of my heart's desire and that He was going to help me. I'm not sure why I didn't tell Richard my thoughts. Maybe it was because I was too proud and was afraid I would not be able to follow through successfully. There had been times in the past when I vowed to myself and to him that I would change but failed miserably to follow through, and I didn't want that to happen again.
"Maybe I was afraid that he would perceive my intentions as hollow promises, and that would drive us farther apart. Or that I would not be able to change fast enough to suit him, and that would create more tension. I wasn't even sure I wanted to admit to him all the ugliness that I was discovering inside of me. What if he rejected me? What would I do then? I decided to keep my decision to myself.
"But I felt like I was making progress. I endeavored to cultivate a better attitude toward Richard and the children, which I hoped would create in turn a more pleasant and positive atmosphere for us all. A more thankful spirit was one thing I worked on. When I washed the clothes, I would thank the Lord for the washing machine that made the task so much easier. As I folded and mended socks, I would thank the Lord for the healthy, strong feet that wore them. As I went to the grocery store, I would thank the Lord for the money we did have and the wisdom He gave me to make it stretch. When I vacuumed the carpets or made up the beds, I would thank the Lord for my good health and the ability to do that kind of work.
"Sometimes I thanked the Lord for the inquisitive minds of my boys that led them to ask continual questions or got them into endless messes. There were even times when I was thankful for the act of sex, and that was not easy for me to do. I was grateful for the pleasure and the release it provided, not only for Richard, but also for me.
"The days were becoming a little happier for me. My thoughts of suicide were subsiding, and I was beginning to see that there was hope. I don't remember noticing any changes in Richard during that period of time, and he has since revealed that he did not observe much difference in my outward behavior either. Not telling him of my desire to grow probably made it easier for me to slip back into my old habit patterns too frequently, and every slip would bring all the previous unpleasantness back to his mind. Maybe I had hurt him so deeply over the years, that he saw my reversions to a negative, critical spirit as a continuation of the same old thing. But in my heart I knew I was growing. It was slow but steady."
After six years of ministry in Fort Worth, God led us to a new ministry in Huntsville, Alabama. Huntsville was a growing community, one of the major centers for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration where the Saturn moon rocket was developed and tested, and it was attracting a growing number of aerospace engineers. I had finished my doctoral work by this time, and the people in the Huntsville church were looking for someone with my educational background to minister to them.
Financially, it was a good move for us. During the last few months of our ministry in Fort Worth, Mary had been cleaning the church in order to help out financially. The church had wanted to pay us more, but simply could not afford it. So when the janitor resigned, she had volunteered for the job. She would get up sometime between 5:00 A.M. and 5:30 A.M. and clean for a few hours while I took care of the boys. It was added pressure for her and she was glad it was over. The church in Huntsville offered to pay us an amount equal to both of our previous salaries. It was a wonderful financial relief.
There were other benefits to the move as well. The church in Huntsville was larger than our previous charge, so I was able to have a secretary. That relieved some of the pressures. There were more young couples in the church too, and the fellowship we enjoyed with them was enriching to both of us. The house we moved into was larger than our home in Fort Worth, and with our growing family we needed more space. You see, when we arrived to begin our new ministry, our fourth child was due within three months.
The birth of our son Tim was additional evidence that God was working in Mary's life. As she recalls it:
"We had not planned on a fourth child, and I was convinced that God would not give us one unless it was a girl. Both of us had wanted a little girl to brighten our home and complete our family, and I was praying constantly and fervently that the baby would be a girl.
"And yet in every prayer, I said 'Lord, no matter how much I beg You, don't give us a girl unless it is Your will. I want Your will more than I want a baby girl.' This may seem strange, but I knew it was a boy before I saw any more than the head emerge from the birth canal. Yet I was filled with joy, knowing that God had given me the desire of my heart--His will over my own. I thought of Psalm 37:4: ‘Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.’”
But even though God was working in Mary's life, my eyes were blinded to it. It was probably almost eight years before I was willing to recognize any significant improvement. The way it happened was, from my perspective, one of the most dramatic points in our marriage relationship.
Do you have a thankful spirit? Instead of murmuring or complaining, start giving thanks in every situation that God allows in your life, whether you feel like it or not. As you step out in faith to obey, God will give you the ability to follow through.
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