coming home.

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It’s a strange feeling, coming home. Our vacation was so magical and restful that we didn’t want to leave, but our plane landed at the Charlotte airport on Wednesday morning after less than three hours of sleep, and real life hit like the blinding South Carolina sun on the tarmac.

We took a bumpy shuttle bus to our car in long-term parking lot 4 and drove the hour-and-a-half to Columbia, and then David had a sermon to write and I found myself in a dirty house because I was sick when we left and we were all four in a fog of jet lag and sleep-deprivation.

I felt rested and happy all week long but then throughout the day on Wednesday as I unpacked and cleaned up and scrawled a grocery list my chest began to tighten and the walls closed in around me. I thought, I can’t do this. It’s too much. I felt like I was suffocating.

Life is busy and we managed to suspend time for eight beautiful days and then it hit with all its force and took my breath away.

By Wednesday night David and I were in a full-scale argument that involved tears on my part and exasperation on his part. The worst thing is that its an old argument, one we have all the time, and so even going through the motions felt cliche and boring. But I could hardly see that in the moment; all I saw were my hurt and anger and feelings of being sorely misunderstood. And I know he felt the exact same way.

The thoughts swirled inside: He’s so hardened toward me. He doesn’t even see me. And as soon as they were formed in my mind it was like a light switched on and God said, “No. You’re the hardened one. You’re sitting here fighting and fighting. Why don’t you stop and listen?”

So I stopped crying and I listened. And I knew it was my fault, the whole thing. It’s the same old argument because I’m choosing to have it. I’m choosing the fight.

We listened to each other and said we were sorry and we both really were. It was my fault and it was his fault. We had a sweet evening after all and fell into bed, bone-tired, at 8:30 pm.

And when I woke up on Thursday morning I pulled out an unused Moleskine notebook and sat with a cup of coffee and wrote the header, “Things I learned about myself from our argument last night.” Have you ever done that before? I sure haven’t. I’m usually too busy rehearsing my part of the argument, making sure it was drum-tight, making sure I got my point across.

I wrote a list of 21 things in that notebook, about me and also about us. Oh, it hurt my pride to do it, but once I started the words just kept coming.

Yes, life is hard. It’s busy. It involves some sacrifices. But it’s also good. Am I mostly choosing to see the hard or am I seeing the good?

Sitting there curled up by the window, I got this picture of the way I can be, the way I say to David and to myself, I know, I know, be patient. God is changing me.

And suddenly I’m realizing, that’s kind of a load of crap.

At the end of the day, am I going to fight for my marriage, or am I going to fight it? Am I going to listen to my husband, or listen to myself talk? Am I going to stand by him, to choose to believe the best of him when he makes decisions, or am I going to attack him? Am I going to come home from a beautiful vacation and get sucked into the whirlwind of stress, or am I going to be grateful for our new memories and take charge of my own well-being? Am I going to be grouchy about a dirty house or am I going to be thrilled that we have our own house after years of moving around?

I wrote out the top three things I’m most stressed about right now, and even as I identified them very specifically, their power over me lessened. They aren’t going away, but suddenly I could put them in their rightful place again, instead of letting them take over my head and grow larger than life.

And then, after all that writing and aching fingers because I never hand-write anything anymore, I opened my Bible to Psalm 94 and read, “Blessed is the man whom You discipline, O Lord.” I knew in that moment: That man is me. I am wrong and I need to change. And I’m blessed because God is showing me that right now. He’s opening my eyes, and He’s saying, “This is the path. Now walk in it. Be free from yourself.”

You know what I love about David? He doesn’t settle. He doesn’t back down to me. Always, always in our marriage he has pushed me. He’s challenged me. He’s asked the hard questions. It’s been the cause of many of our arguments and sometimes my resentment, but now I’m seeing more and more that this is a gift. I can appear very compliant on the outside but God only knows how stubborn and hard my heart is, how resistant I am to change.

And he brought me David. Who loves me exactly for who I am. But who also loves me enough to push me. He’s not content with a lifetime of the same old script, of us just gritting our teeth and enduring the frustrating parts of our marriage, of a fatalism that says, “I am who I am.”

No, he has way more hope and faith in God than that. He leads the way in our marriage by being humble and willing to change, and he knows the only way I’ll find freedom is being humble and willing to change too.

So on Wednesday night when all I wanted was for him to feel sorry for me, he said, “No Julie. I love you and I want more for you. I want more for us.” He was sorry but he wouldn’t pity me.

And his courage to stand strong is what opened my eyes.

I love him because he sees the woman I can become. And he won’t give up.

I’m learning that’s the way God loves me. He accepts me right here and right now. Jesus has paid for all my sins. But He has way too much hope and excitement and joy about the Julie he created to let me dig my heels in and refuse to change. He wants to give me everything.

You know what else I love about my husband? He knows me better than anyone else. And so he gave up his Saturday afternoon — the short two hours sandwiched between work and helping friends move that he had to relax — to help me work on our new master bedroom. He hung curtains. We organized. It’s starting to look cozy and inviting and restful.

Because David knows that when my life feels out of control, making a home brings me back to myself. It lets peace burrow a little deeper into my heart and keeps the walls from closing in and gives me space to breathe again. He could do anything with this knowledge — he could roll his eyes or tell me I’m shallow or simply just not acknowledge it. But instead he serves me in this very personal way. It may sound silly to someone else, but it means the world to me.

And that also shows me God’s love.

It’s Sunday afternoon and my heart feels lighter than it’s felt all week. I’m happy to be home.

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