We met on a hot summer’s day at a dusty worksite in Mexico, 1993. He was a college hockey player from Minnesota who had recently given his life to the Lord. I was a grungy-granola girl from the Pacific Northwest headed off to college to study nursing. Besides being attracted to each other physically, we were attracted to each other’s hearts for the Lord and the calling that we had individually embraced through Scripture.
There was no convincing and no hoping that the other would follow along. We knew we were meant to be. In fact, the way we met was truly serendipitous; had there been a slight difference in timing, we never would have crossed paths. I just knew he and I were made for each other.
Just kidding. It hasn’t always been butterflies and beach walks.
Although we both had similar dreams, goals and passions in life, we came from very different backgrounds. Our personalities were different, as were our strengths and insecurities. Soon after we got married, issues surfaced that forced us to dig deep into areas we preferred to ignore or forget about all together.
We decided to take the advice of my wise father-in-law who told us on our wedding day, “Marriage is like a car; it requires maintenance, specialized care and tune-ups. If you want to get the most out of your car, you gotta give it the attention it deserves.”
Not quite a profound Jesus-quote, but still…good advice. We knew moving overseas would test our marriage in unique ways – and we didn’t want our engines to break down – so as soon as we joined our organization, we took advantage of counseling offered to us.
Over the seventeen years that followed, we made a point to get a tune-up whenever the opportunity arose. We never lived in a location that made counseling accessible – even online – so it often meant sessions took place during a home visit or at a conference. Sometimes the tune-up was a light debrief, other times the tune-up required several sessions to work through a tough issue or traumatic experience on the field. Tune-ups also came in the form of getaways and dates- something we arranged with teammates.
When I look back on our marriage overseas, good memories aside, it was stressful! We lived in such harsh environments at times; it was more about survival than flourishing. Putting one’s energy into ministry while doing the laundry by hand, cooking on an open fire, and learning language doesn’t give one much time to snuggle their partner or have relaxed conversations. In Africa we were sick a lot; bouts of malaria and other diseases became routine. Leading a team of individuals who were all dealing with their own issues was also exhausting. And it was then that we became pregnant with our firstborn, bringing a whole new layer of stress.
In Asia, we felt the oppressive weight of the political climate, the indigenous beliefs, and the isolation of our location. Our marriage dashboard was dinging and flashing– more responsibility, more demands, more children, more needs at the door, more travel, more meetings out of province, more educational decisions, more….until the doors closed. There was no way to stay.
Suddenly the cute couple chatting at a taco stand in Mexico were two devastated, exhausted, lonely people who couldn’t take very good care of each other anymore. We were empty, silently angry, and in desperate need of heart mechanics. This time the car needed to stay in the shop for major diagnostic work and repair, not just an oil change.
During an extended sabbatical, our marriage got the attention and soul-care it needed. This came in the form of biblical counseling, personal retreat, and couple time. The result? We came out running better, with some new parts and new tools to help for future repairs.
In our 22 years of marriage, my husband and I have spent more years as a couple overseas than in our country of origin. We have learned to lean on each other in life’s most devastating moments and rejoice in mountaintop experiences. We have cried into each other’s arms when doors closed in one place and had some great laugh-out-loud cross-cultural moments too. My guy will always be my ultimate travel companion, language classmate, team co-leader, friend, parenting buddy, lover, and faith co-sojourner. I love him more now than I ever have. But it has taken a lot of work!
I’m not sure where you are in your marriage journey but know that taking care of you and your marriage is a good and responsible thing to do. If we go back to the car maintenance example, I think we all can agree preventative care and tune-ups are a GOOD thing. The overseas life can lend itself to overheating and breakdowns. If we aren’t careful to find balance when it comes to marriage (whether overseas or not), it’s easy to run our engines into the ground. Take my father-in-law Al’s advice: make time for tune-ups, you won’t regret it!
What good advice have you received about marriage and overseas life? What are some ways you tune-up your marriage?