Thoughts on Marriage, sixteen years in.

When Aaron asked me to marry him, he did it three times. (I wrote about the first time here.) He says he wanted to give me lots of opportunities to back out. The third time came after a period where I kept making plans for the next year, assuming that he would just tag along with me in my life. When I finally asked him why he didn't seem all that excited about the plans that I was making for both of us he said something to the effect of, "You realize that if we're married we're going to make plans together, right? And I might not want to do the same things you want to do."

It shocked me into tears, which is rather embarrassing to think about, that I didn't understand that 17 years ago. After we talked about it a while he asked me again.

"So, now that you understand what it is I'm asking of you, will you marry me?"

I told him I needed time to think about it, and asked for 24 hours before I gave an answer.


It's our sixteenth wedding anniversary today. Sixteen was the last anniversary my parents celebrated before their separation and divorce so it feels significant to have made it this far and not be looking for a way out.

Back when I first chose marriage a way out was actually something I made sure to not give myself. One of the reasons I told Aaron I needed time to think was because if I had said yes right away, without careful consideration, that would have left me a back door, an excuse that would let me off the hook if I tried this marriage thing and decided it wasn't for me after all. "I didn't realize what I said yes to. I didn't take time to think."

Before we were engaged. 1999
I really wasn't sure I wanted to get married at all. Not when the reality of it was staring me in the face. The idea of having to make choices with another person, to compromise, to do something I might not want to do because my husband wanted to, these were all uncomfortable, but that last bit was downright terrifying. It meant trusting another person to make choices that affected my own well being, trusting him to make choices that were good for both of us.

I knew from experience just how messy it can be, how much power you give another person to hurt you when you give yourself to them, body and soul. I'd seen the hurt that my parents caused each other in their marriage. I knew what a weak position a married woman can find herself in, with children, dependent on a man, a flawed human like herself.

In truth, I think anyone who actually knows what marriage involves will find it terrifying. I'm not sure many people would get married if they knew beforehand what it would cost them.


But, the beautiful moments are breathtaking. The possibilities for unspeakable joy are endless. But I don't think marriage is good because it makes you happy. Marriage is good because it will break you down and refine you, showing you the ugliest most selfish bits of your heart, all your worst fears, and demand that you deal with them. The only way through is to grow up, become less selfish, less insecure, and ultimately think of yourself less and less, if at all. It's good that it's a relationship that is hard to end, that begins with a promise you make that you want to keep, because without that you might run away from the refining crucible that marriage is before you can be truly refined. You may run away when you're hurt, or when you're afraid to let your spouse see the ugly things you are ashamed of and try to keep hidden.


 It's that promise that keeps you there, keeps you apologizing when you were wrong, and controlling yourself when you are angry, and learning not to assume the worst in each other in every word and action. Because you promised, you keep trying, and you get beyond your hurt and your fear and your anger and your feelings, you get over yourself, and you learn to love. You learn to act out of love, rather than fear. You learn to forgive, and let it go. You learn to give thanks for the beauty, for the one you walk with day by day, you learn to speak truthfully of your own heart without fear of being rejected.


These are the things that marriage can do for you. That marriage did for me.

Doing a Charis event. 2012
 Who you marry does matter, a lot. I'm certain I married up. But what matters most is that they are as committed to staying in this relationship as you are. You must both be people who work to keep your promises. You must have the character to chose to love, even when you are angry, or hurt, or stressed. You have to both keep coming back, because you promised. Love isn't a feeling, it's a choice. And the more you chose love, the easier it gets. Forgiveness isn't a feeling either. The more often you chose to say the words, "I forgive you" the easier it becomes to forgive. The more often you choose to be thankful, the more thankful you become and the more beauty you will see.

 Some years might suck. Some decades might suck. So why do it?


Twenty four hours later when Aaron showed up at my door again, I still didn't have an answer. I had made pro con lists, I had prayed, I had asked the counsel of friends.

I had asked myself all the questions. Do I trust him? Do we want compatible things in life? Do I love him for who he is now, not who he could be? The answer was always yes, but I still didn't know.

We went for a walk and I tried to put it off on God. You know, if God told me to marry him then I'd say yes without hesitation. I didn't realize at the time that that was another back door. If I didn't choose, and God did for me, then I could blame God for everything if this relationship went south. Personal responsibility for my choices was not something I was very good at.

So Aaron asked if I wanted his opinion. I did.

He said, "I think God is asking, 'What do you want Carrien? Who do you want to be?' If you choose to get married, God will love you and bless you and be with you. If you choose to stay single God still will love you and bless you and be with you. What do you want?"

Can I tell you that the ugly cry is not the most attractive thing to do during a marriage proposal? His words terrified me. I felt like I was standing on the edge of a precipice in a whirlwind as I realized no one was going to tell me what to do in this situation. I had to choose, and I'd have no one to blame but myself if I didn't like the results of my choice. I cried for a long time, 5 or 10 minutes I suppose.

When the storm had passed only one thought remained. I truly believed, and still do, that what matters most in life is how well we love God, and love other people. So I asked myself if marrying this incredibly patient man standing in front of me would in any way hinder my ability to do those two things.

I reasoned that getting married would give me more, not less opportunities to love people well, and with that, I said yes, for the third and final time and "I do" six months later.


Though I can think of many other opportunities one might have that would build strength, character, and your capacity to forgive and love another person outside of marriage, I know marriage is a pretty efficient way to go about it.


It's hard work. But the work pays off. There is nothing quite like knowing that you have hidden nothing from this person, they know all of your flaws and triumphs, and weaknesses, and they still choose to do life with you and love you, all these many years later.



Camping out in the Pink Palace

I wrote this a year ago, when we first moved into this house, and never hit publish. I was trying to take a video tour to add to the post so you could see what I was talking about, but it didn't turn out well, and so I was going to try again... you know how that goes. Anyway, we've lived in this house a year now. I'm using pictures I took on my first walk through it before we signed the lease. This is what it was like just before we first moved in.

Yes, there's a tree trunk in my living room.
The last 9 Thai kings have their pictures displayed over that window

The living room from different angles.
This built in cabinet hides a stairway that goes down to a basement. Most Thai houses don't have basements. Ours is full of water, maybe that's why.
Here's the flooded basement.
bathroom off the upstairs balcony

The Kitchen is actually very bright with windows looking at the back yard. But the shutters are closed in this photo.
This funny little room between, kitchen and living room became our dining room. The stairs make fitting the table in a bit awkward.

I couldn't have lived in this house two years ago, and not just because of the bats in the attic, or the flooded basement. I would have been overwhelmed by the squatty potties, the bucket showers, the way I go outside and then back inside to get to my bedroom.

The girl's room. It's pretty nice.

the little bathroom that adjoins the two kid's rooms

The play/school room. The boy's room is a little bedroom behind that door.
 I couldn't have handled the setting up of mosquito nets every single night, because until we find someone to install screen, this house doesn't have any. I didn't know about mosquito coils and how to burn them to keep the clouds of insects out of the kitchen while I prepare dinner.

upstairs balcony

The stairs from the balcony to our room.

Our room. That door opens on the tiny high balcony you see in the first picture
 There are also all the spots that are just so dirty after years of misuse and sitting empty so long.

It's felt a lot like we're camping out in a mansion. Everything is just as much extra work as when you're camping, hauling bottles of drinking water to each child's bedside, trying to keep people from getting dirty again after they bathe, setting up nets, the need to crawl into nets, and spit on the ground to brush your teeth. (Every single one of the sinks in this house, except the kitchen, were torn off the walls when we first moved in. So we spit in the bathroom drain when brushing.) At least now the sinks are fixed, and the doors now shut again since we fixed or replaced all the missing doorknobs.

I think once we have screens installed I will lose the camping out feeling altogether and start feeling at home instead. You know, when I don't have to decided whether to just go straight to bed after the sun sets or huddle in bed under the mosquito net with my laptop in order to keep the beetles from landing on my head and neck while I type.

two huge outbuildings in the back yard

But I love this house. I love the space outside, the whole acre full of fruit trees with a fish pond even for my kids to roam. You know, after we finally get all the broken glass and trash picked up, clean the piles of rotting trash out of the pond, fill it with water and stock it. In other words. This house has so much potential, but it may take time to realize it all.

But one of the best parts? We also have a really big guest house. Like, a two bathroom, three bedroom guesthouse. Perfect for volunteers, and guests, and even to sublet on occasion if we want. It's rather ideal. Of course, at present it's completely unfurnished, and also needs a sink or two installed plus screens, but soon. Soon. That's a Thailand soon, by the way, so any day now, give or take 6 months in either direction.

guest house from the side

guest house from the front, looking across the dry fish pond.

One year later, we have screens, though 2 screen doors need repairs already, we've installed showers and hot water heaters in the bathrooms, we cleaned and stocked the fish pond, much of the grime has been washed away, but not all, and there are still parts of the yard that have broken glass lying around. I got pregnant unexpectedly, shortly after we moved in, and there were many things that I wanted to do on this house, that I didn't have the energy to do. We'll finally plant flowers this rainy season I think, for example.

We pumped the water out of the flooded basement when rainy season ended and we've lined the leaky room with waterproof concrete. Now we wait for it to rain again to see if we fixed the problem, or if it will flood once more.

But it does feel like home. Baby Pax was born upstairs in this very house. We've settled in, and we don't plan to leave for a long, long time. The rest will come.


Why your friend with many kids may say no to coffee, even if she wants to go.

Leaving the house alone is always an event for me. Aaron can get up in the morning, get himself dressed, look at his computer for a while and then casually decide to get up and walk out and drive away like it's no big deal. He'll be chased down by a few children insisting on goodbye hugs of course, and sometimes the littlest guys ask if they can go with him too, but for the most part he leaves, and comes back, and leaves again, on his own terms.

I might be jealous.

Before I leave in the morning for my one office day a week I make breakfast for at least one child and make sure they are wearing clothes. Sometimes I have to sneak out so a person doesn't cry, which is no small feat. I have to hug everyone. I have to remind everyone what they are doing for the day. I have to answer a million questions about what they can or can't do while I'm gone, even though there's another adult there to care for them. I make sure to leave money to pay for things. (They hand deliver the water bill around here, and wait until you pay them.) I have to make sure I have everything the baby needs for the day. But most of all I have to listen to the refrain of, "AWW! Why are you leaving AGAIN Mommy?"

Once I'm finally out the gate, hair blowing in the wind, cruising down the highway, it's awesome. I feel so free. I could go anywhere. I could go to the store and not have anyone climbing on me, shouting for my attention, asking if we can buy things, or tearing off down the aisles. I could buy ice cream and not have to share with anyone! I could be completely alone, by myself, and think in complete sentences! What I most often do is drive to the office and work with minimal interruption for several hours, or have meetings, before going back home.

But then there's the reentry. I get in the door and there are five people who demand to reconnect with me. If you have one child, or two, this is pretty straightforward. They each get to talk to you for a while and then you go have dinner, (at least, I imagine it that way.) Five kids take a bit longer, and they tend to speak over top of each other in order to get your attention. Let's assume they each need about half an hour to tell me all about their day, the triumphs, the hurts, the accomplishments, the jokes. That's two and one half hours of talking to people after a full day of working!!!

They need me. Like seriously need, not just want. I'm vital to their well being. And don't let their size fool you. Those gargantuan ones need me just as much. Maybe more. Even if they are less clingy now.

Worse is leaving around bed time. Don't kid yourself that my children go to sleep when I'm gone at bed time. No. They lay in bed keeping themselves awake so that when I get home they can call to me to come and hug them and then tearfully tell me how sad they were that I wasn't there to read to them and tuck them in and "Why did you have to go somewhere at bed time?"

Add to this that I like my kids. I don't like leaving them often. My heart prefers to be with them.

So when you invite a mom of many kids to join you for coffee for a few hours one morning, I want you to understand the cost benefit analysis that she has to go through.

She may enjoy your company. She may really like the idea of getting away for a few hours of adult conversation. What she doesn't like is the work it will take to get past the weeping masses and out of the house and all the re entry work it will take when she gets home again. Sometimes she's just exhausted by the thought of leaving the house. If she's an introvert it's even more exhausting to consider.

If your friend says no to your invitations more often than she says yes, or if she hesitates every time you invite her, it's probably not because she doesn't like you. It's because parenting many children is a time consuming energy sucking thing and she may just not have it in her to put in all the work required to go do something "fun and relaxing".

So please, don't stop inviting your friend to coffee, to ladies night out, to that Bible study she can't bring her kids to that starts just before bed time. Sometimes she may choose to go. But please understand that when she says no, it's not you. Even if she likes the idea of it, sometimes the reality is just too exhausting for it to be worth it.

But, she probably won't turn you down if you call her to say, "I'm picking up coffee for both of us and coming over to see you." That, she can do.

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