The Climb Out

Happy Valentine's Day friends! Today is the first post in a series of ours we are starting about marriage and relationships that make us who we are. We would love to hear your stories about struggles, difficulties, unforgettable moments, and of course love! Of all our relationships, the one with our spouse can be the most fulfilling and the most challenging. It can give us some of our best and worst stories to tell.

Let me ask you something. Have you ever become painfully aware that your most meaningful relationship has somehow come to a difficult, maybe even formidable season? Have you wondered at your lowest moments whether it’s worth it to keep trying? Do you choose to hold on and move forward or give up and let go?

I met my husband when I was 23. After our first kiss, I had the romantic notion that I would marry him but I really didn't know. I didn't know lots of things back then. Like how hard marriage really is. That the lows can be just as miraculous as the highs. They both can take your breath away. Thinking back, I don't remember what my thoughts were about getting married, I just remember wanting to. I wanted to be just with one person always to share a future and a family and forever. Mike was that for me.

Fast forward almost 17 years and three children. We have shared many things and made it through this far, sometimes I wonder how. We both have a mean streak. We are not very nice to each other sometimes. Neither one of us really knows how to say "I'm sorry" the way the other can hear it. The burdens of life can be too much sometimes and we can feel it pulling us under. We don't deal with stress very well and our life has been one big ball of stress for the past three years. But somehow, we have made it this far.

When I was growing up, no one ever talked to me about marriage. The examples of marriage in my life were not happy. My grandparents were married for over 65 years but they didn't like each other very much, and we all knew it. My parents were married for 18 years and somewhere along the way they lost respect for each other and it all fell apart. Basically I was NOT prepared to get married and be the wife I needed to be. My romantic notions were not a good foundation for building one of the most important relationships in my life, and that became apparent quickly.

I became a Christian after my first son was born, before my husband did. The good Lord saw fit to bring him around a few years later. I wish I could say it was partly my good influence, my kind actions and holding my tongue that brought him to Christ, but alas, I am imperfect in so many ways. I wish I could say that the first few years of marriage were the hardest but in our case years 14, 15, and 16 have kicked our literal butts. Our path led down into a valley and wouldn't let us go. Financially we struggled and that struggle brought a strain that created such disillusionment, it makes me cry to just write about it. What do you do when you look at the partner you have chosen for your forever and you don't know if you can even make it to tomorrow? It’s binding, blinding and suffocating. Sometimes it feels as if there is no way to climb out of a hole that deep.

You know how we’re doing it? Very slowly, on our knees. We decided one afternoon that our family was worth fighting for. Our kids deserved so much more than what a divorce would give them. So instead of packing a bag, we picked up a phone and asked for help and then got back on our knees and got to work. The work is hard and sometimes quiet. I am selfish and don't like change. When I sat and listened, the still voice of Jesus whispered to me that if I started to love my husband the way He did and listened to what He had to say in His word, I would be free from all the pain and the disillusionment would be lifted off my veiled eyes. I needed that. So, I started a transformation from the inside out. A painful, introspective transformation, where I had to admit what my faults were and what I had been contributing to the breakdown of the relationship to my children's father. I don't know about you, but I don't like looking at my faults. Even worse, I don't like thinking that my stubbornness, selfishness or lack of empathy would point some of the blame in my direction. What? It’s my fault too? Ugh.

I don't know about you but it's hard for me to show my husband love when I really just want to ignore him or talk him to death, telling him how he can show ME love. I have to set him straight right? Isn't it my job to tell him what he is doing wrong and how he can fix it? I had to admit it to myself. Pointing out his faults hasn't worked, not in 17 years and I can't imagine that will ever change. Isn't that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? I was going insane and I needed to try something different.

I really had to step back and figure out what I could change about my marriage. Since it was my fault too (I guess...) what could I do differently to stop the feelings of suffocation and pain? It goes against my nature to do that, so it was hard, even to just think about it. What did I need to change? The way I react to the actions of my husband. That was it. I realized, after introspective chatter and discovery (and prayer), that in many situations I was over reacting because of past history or something that I couldn't let go of. I discovered I'm really good at holding onto stuff that needs to be let go. I'm not so good at recognizing that it needs to go. I wear circumstances like badges of honor and use them to my advantage. How awful. How selfish. That's no good. Enter change, stage right.

It's really true what they say about not being able to change other people. I can only change myself. I do not want to act selfishly. I do not want to put the blame on others where it doesn't belong. I do not want to hold on to the past so it smothers my present. Those are the things I am working to change. I am a work in progress. So is my marriage.

My husband and I are not out of the valley yet, but the difference now is that we are holding hands, helping each other to find the best foot holds to climb up and out. We take small steps every day. Sometimes they are backwards, but mostly forward. We talk. Communication is key. We are still not very nice sometimes. The change is that we are listening differently. Our intent is to offer help to each other and to understand, not just to get our own point across or to be "right." If you are always "right," if you always "win" the argument, then your spouse always loses and who wants to be married to a loser?

We remember to look up. If your focus is on the waves threatening to drown you, they will. Change your focus to what can save you and you will be saved. We pray. And pray some more. It helps us work from the inside out. We try and picture ourselves in 30 years. What do we want to see? Children and grandchildren sitting by our feet, with the one we chose for our forever sitting close beside, wrinkled fingers touching. Holding hands with the one who understands me best of all and has stuck by me anyway. That thought of that future gives me hope. One more foothold that helps me hold on in the hard moments.

If you are in a hard or troublesome place in your marriage, or with your kids, or even a friend, can I humbly suggest listening to that still quiet voice, opening your ears and your heart to the possibilities of what you may need to do differently? Sometimes it may be about changing the way you talk or changing your focus. Sometimes it’s all about getting on your knees. Maybe it's about changing your thoughts from the present darkness around you to the hope that shimmers in the future. Sometimes that can be the light that leads the way. Trust me, the climb is worth it.

Holly and Jenn


  1. Oh Holly, you have me crying. You know I know. All too well. Thank you for sharing a hopeful heart. You are talking to my heart lady! Love you.

  2. are so brave and strong and I am blessed to be on this journey with you. Love you friend! xoxo

  3. This probably wasn't easy to write, so bravo Holly!