The running joke from family and friends in the months leading up to our wedding late June was that we would get married in Nashville and run off to a yearlong honeymoon in Guatemala. Though we came here to work, and work hard, Hilary and I did hope for some romance to accompany our first year as newlyweds. We at least figured the beauty of Guatemala would overshadow petty grievances and the work would make us grateful for what we have. Almost six months into our trip, I can say that the honeymoon has yet to come and the struggle to get along is hard-pressed to leave. Very early on, our marriage has been stretched to the brink and tolerance for our life partners has grown thinner already than I expected it would in a lifetime. For the romantics that hoped the spontaneity of travel would make a relationship easier, including myself, we were wrong.
Hilary has some personality traits that I didn’t expect to encounter, and some I hoped would disappear after marriage. Most of the time, I blame her for our struggle. I often characterize her as weak, dependent, absent-minded, and dramatic. I never imagined myself as a resentful husband, but it didn’t take long for me to find myself as such. We work together at the same school, plan in the same office, and teach in the same classroom. We eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at each other’s side and share the exact same group of acquaintances, hardly any aspect of our lives differing from the other. I get claustrophobic being at her hip every moment. Then too many nights I lay down angry at the day, tired from the effort, and wondering why it didn’t turn out how I thought it would.
Two months ago, during a class with 7th graders, Hilary led an exercise with the group that I considered boring and poorly created. I watched as the kids became confused and uninterested, talking over Hilary and ignoring the instructions. I stood in a corner, not saying a word, congratulating myself for my accurate prediction. Meanwhile, Hilary was visibly frustrated, alone against the chaos of middle school apathy. She left the classroom well aware of her shortcoming, and I was quick criticize what I felt was a lack of creativity and classroom discipline. Once again, I wondered why I carried such an unbalanced portion of the load in our relationship. Last Thursday, I had the same class of 7th graders by myself, as Hilary sat outside to tutor a small group of girls. The class period turned into a 45-minute war between the students and me. As they looked on, confused and uninterested, I tried to prepare them for an upcoming exam, but my instructions were drowned out by their incessant talking and by the snap-hums of rubber bands sending paper hornets across the room. I left the class with my stomach in a knot, anxious from my classroom failure, but almost in tears because of my arrogance with Hilary two months before. I have acted as a proud and self-serving husband too often, and my frustration was caused by my egomaniacal fascination with my own strength and willpower. In that moment, I looked back at 5 months of Hilary’s tender and benevolent words, but felt my knees break and my sternum compress inward from the whole weight of her humbling action. I saw her marathon-class patience so clearly and her sheep’s meekness began to gnash at my consciousness like a wolf. Dozens of prideful moments flooded my memory and I hated myself intensely until the point she walked up and asked how class went. When I confessed of my failure in capturing the student’s attention, she flashed her beautiful smile and rubbed my shoulders. She reassured me and empathized with my struggle in the classroom. Without even a tinge of disappointment or resentfulness, she wrecked me again with grace.
I don’t pray as much as I used to, but I started praying more about my desire for peace with Hilary. I realized, or perhaps was shown, that I set myself up for failure. I founded my relationship with Hilary on the principles and expectations of Ephesians 5 and the life of Jesus, but I hold her accountable to my own self-designed standard. I misled both of us and turned out to be the source of my own misery.
I am thankful to the family that has taken us in here. Hilary and I are surrounded by perfect examples of what a successful and loving marriage looks like. Miky recently had surgery on her leg and has been away from the school to recover. Twice a day, Mario walks her to the end of the driveway and back, 5 times, at a snail’s pace. After more than 40 years of marriage, they still have enough to laugh about the whole way, and Miky smiles as big as Hilary did at our wedding, just honored to hold on to the arm of the man she loves most. Mario never belittles her for the one weak knee, because he knows it holds a woman strong enough to make the earth tremble and the sky fall. Their love is palpable, and slowly it is rubbing off on me.
Travel doesn’t make a relationship easier. It amplifies the weaknesses of both participants, then introduces unimaginable obstacles to exploit tension and grate against tired nerves. Hilary and I have been honored recipients of the rarities and wonderment of travel, but also the inevitable hardships that seek out young hearts. I’m thankful to have a beautiful partner to share both with me, a partner that teaches me grace, patience, and forgiveness at new depths and higher boundaries. I wake up next to her every day a better man with a softer heart. Hilary has her own versions of Miky’s weak knee, but she has strength like the bursting of celestial forces to rock me when I’m impatient and tumble my impressive ego.
To Hilary: I’m learning, I’m improving, I’m humbled, and I’m thankful.
To Readers: Don’t travel if you need your relationship to be easier. Travel if you want to really know the magnitude of your own faults and make yourself vulnerable to depend fully on another. Two irons that enter the crucible, if able to leave, are forged inseparably.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.