A Steel Frame Holds

When my husband and I were dating, I was a 20-year-old single mother and I was determined to finish college because my unplanned pregnancy had forced an unwanted hiatus from school. When we were going through pre-marriage counseling with our pastor, I mentioned this in a session. The pastor said, “You have a baby to take care of,” even as he was encouraging Jeff to extend his 2 year Bible college goal to 4 years. One day, as Jeff and I stood outside the beat up construction trailer that would become our first home, I said, “I will finish college.” He bristled, not because he was unsupportive of my goals (he’s always been that), but because I was making a declaration rather than including him in a decision.

What was implicit rather than explicit in my declaration was a desire to escape a dubious 1970s past. And fear. When my father died of a myocardial infarction at 41 years old, my mother was left with two children to care for on her own. I was terrified of being unprepared for an unpredictable future.

I did finish college, with the help of my mother and my mother-in-law, both of whom babysat, and with the support of my husband, who worked countless hours earning a lucrative income (rather than a degree) so that we were able to pay for my education without incurring any new debt. I finished also because I decided that college would be my hobby. I didn’t go to the gym or the nail salon or on expensive trips. I went to school in my spare time for twelve years and graduated with honors. Only then did Jeff go back to school.

Fast forward a decade and some of my worst fears have come true. My baby is dead and my husband is involuntarily retired due to a physical disability. We’re in the midst of profound grief and profound role reversal. He stays home and I go to work. To make matters worse, my choice of a practical career coincided with historic technological shifts. Journalism is about as unstable and insecure as a career gets. I’ve had to be creative and flexible in order to minimally meet our financial needs. I’ve also had to grapple with that little devil reputation again, because there is a prejudice in our culture toward those, like my husband, who are unable to work. I wrestle with this prejudice myself. And then, there are the emotional challenges of role reversal. Ann Althouse writes this about it:

These deeply embedded sex roles… they don’t change so easily. Being large-minded and flexible and into change isn’t enough. It doesn’t get at the root of what you really feel, and you can’t just feel what you want to feel.

Jeff is one of the smartest, hardest working men I know. Still. He keeps his days full and his mind occupied. He contributes significantly to our family and our community. His strong work history and wise financial decisions have made our continued solvency possible. And yet, we both feel the strain. As much as I’ve always wanted a career, I haven’t wanted one like this. As much as he knows he must respect his limitations, he often ends up writhing in pain from overexertion.

Ann Althouse’s marriage didn’t survive role reversal. My marriage will survive, as it has through a host of other challenges, including the only one that has truly threatened to decimate it: our son’s suicide. We’ll thrive because we love each other and because we have a long history of working through our conflicts, but mostly because God is with us and in us prompting us always to love and forgive.

Planning for the uncertain future is good and wise. It creates a framework upon which to build when the walls of life are blown off. Without structure, chaos reigns. Without love, there’s no point in rebuilding.

13 Comments on “A Steel Frame Holds

  1. Christine:

    Your transparency is appreciated more than you know. While journalism is an unstable vocation, your ministry is consistent, valuable, and effective.

  2. Thanks so much Bryon. Your family’s witness helps me to hang in there too. Blessings~

  3. Beautiful post, one that probes the depths of what faith means. Thanks CAS for who you are.

  4. Thanks for stopping by Scot, and for the kind words. Blessings to you~

  5. Thanks Erika! Now I wish you would, but I understand, and I like the thought of you up there in Seattle pastoring your church and your brood. blessings~

  6. “My marriage will survive…We’ll thrive because we love each other and because we have a long history of working through our conflicts, but mostly because God is with us and in us prompting us always to love and forgive.”

    Praise God for this and for your determination!’

  7. Thanks Pat and welcome.

  8. I stopped by because of Scot’s weekly links and now I have a lump in my throat. Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. An excellent post. I applaud your determination for your marriage to survive. My husband and I had reversed roles for 10 years because I was a physician working full-time while he stayed home and took care of the kids. For the last four years, I’ve been unable to work because of chronic pain. We are truly blessed, though, because I had good disability insurance, so my husband works part-time but spends most of his time keeping our family together. There are so many days when we see other couples who have split up over seemingly trivial things and we say to each other, “I will never leave you – by the grace of God.” I’ll be a regular reader of your blog now that I’ve discovered it – I love your writing and your honesty. Thanks.

  10. Thank you for sharing your story of faith

  11. Blessings to you, Christine, from your purple abbess sister … thanks for sharing and trusting God on the journey you find yourself.

  12. Thanks again to everyone for the kind words. My goodness. To think I wrote this post spontaneously on a Sunday afternoon. I must say that I don’t really think I have determination as much as an inability to surrender to circumstances, and a lot of support from family and friends.

    Catherine, Thanks for sharing your story. It encourages me. I am a sporadic blogger, but am going for a goal of once a week. My first column for UrbanFaith.com is the next thing I have up professionally. It’s tentatively titled Art & Urban Ministry. I’m also working on projects for Christianity Today and TheHighCalling.org. so check my About page for links if you don’t find anything new here. Blessings~