When A Hallmark Card Falls Short : The Case For Fresh Starts When All Seems Lost

Knowing already what today is, I wasn’t wild about seeing the automated greeting from Facebook: “Happy Anniversary!” Below the allegedly joyous greeting was a collage of photos selected by a contrived formula executed by a computer.

This is one of those moments when a Hallmark card falls short, when the greatest gift pings like Sal’s blueberries hitting her empty tin pail.

Kuplink. Kuplank. Kuplunk.

Soberly, I look across the table at my husband. What is there to celebrate? Tears fill my eyes when I’m told to be ready by six, to have kids fed and ready for bed. My husband is smiling, proud of his attempt to make something of this day, our anniversary. I feel it’s more of a memorial than a jubilant celebration. Eight years of marriage ricochet between my heart and mind. Shouldn’t we have this marriage figured out by now? When will we stop wasting our life with arguing?

“What’s wrong?” He naively queries, as if that is even a question to postulate.

I sigh deeply sincerely wondering as I numbly ask, “What do we have to celebrate?” “Hooray, we’re that couple sticking it out!” I sarcastically cheer with matching grin.

“Actually, that is something to celebrate,” cheer in his voice, his zeal to celebrate the smallest crumb unrelenting though the sting of my words was evident by the hurt in his eyes.

“True. But don’t give me anything. Not a card, a gift or flowers. I don’t want to remember this year.” My callus words filling the room like coastal fog.

The reflection I see in my nearly empty coffee mug reminds me hurt is gone, a season of the past. It’s frustration I lock eyes with in the privacy of that mug. Why can’t we seem to get this thing called marriage figured out? How many years will be added to the grave before we learn how to show true love to each other?

It wasn’t always like this. Before kids, life was easy-peesy. Our first two years of marriage were bliss! We weren’t the stereotypical couple who wanted to “kill each other,” but then the kids came. And the complications of our worlds colliding became a constant minefield.

I later find myself poolside, my own efforts to keep the depravity of our marriage hidden from new friends quickly unraveled when caught off-guard by congratulatory words. The glow on her face and excitement in her eyes as she asks how we would celebrate stop me dead. Every effort to nonchalantly pass the question fail, because there are times when the only answer is honesty, this was one of those times. In the past, honesty would have included unnecessary defaming details. Perhaps there’s some growth on my part to demonstrate some level of discretion.

“Things are really rough right now.” I shamefully exhale knowing I’m a majority shareholder. As much as I want to crawl in a cave and forever hide, these women seem to have the marriages for which Hallmark cards are written, I want to ask them how to make a beautiful marriage but I don’t. My heart’s capacity is maxed out like the storage on my phone when I want to snap another priceless picture of our kids.

Falling short, I recount my earlier words to my husband at breakfast, “What do we have to celebrate?” There’s no backpedaling once words like these fall off one’s lips. The gasp, “Julie!” in a tone packed with love, rebuke and surprise from these friends was like being slapped awake from a nightmare.

A solace comforts my heart. While I’m not “happy” in the way most would describe happiness, a dogged resolve is budding.

A week of steeping later….

Left alone, the sobering reality of my anniversary would have been a catastrophe, but God always has something more in store. He always has a way of bandaging the worst wound through His restoring love. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, I feel like I’ve had a monumental experience in a short period of time.

A week ago in my little pink journal I streamlined my thoughts: I am loved. We’re secure. We have the blessing of children. But as the week wore on, as I grappled with my marriage, something strange happened. A resurgence of conviction and hope began to flourish as God linked the years together through a faith lens.

There’s something about being faithful, and this last week I have reaped the rewards of faithfully digging into God’s truth through thick and thin. As God would have it, the apostle Peter has continually crossed my path over the past year. While studying the book of Matthew, there was Peter, full of faith, laced with doubt. Peter, whose mouth simultaneously spouted denials or made robust proclamations. Peter, who boldly walked on stormy waters towards Jesus, only to sink because of a real, tangible distraction. Like Peter, I live on the hem of deep conviction and passionate beliefs.

The waters of my marriage have been stormy. Years of geographical change, career changes and challenges, the birth of two precious lives and the loss of two others, and near financial ruin followed by prosperity. All have provided ample distractions from keeping my eyes fully fixed on Christ, along with ample reasons to keep my eyes fully fixed on Christ. Truly, the distinction between living fully and drowning is that simple.

Just as our eyes can be swayed from our first love, God, my eyes were distracted from the first love for my husband. There we sat celebrating an anniversary dinner at the pub we’ve frequented for over a decade. The grey-haired table beside us, with a lifetime of memories painfully and meticulously collected, led us to contemplate how we are growing old, together.

The reality of our lifelong commitment, for better or worse, sickness and health, ruin and prosperity, has finally set in. Glossy-eyed, I look at my husband with new admiration, with fresh adoration.

I see his true love for me daily and I am challenged to return the same.
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This year, I proudly celebrate “sticking it out”, because I wouldn’t have seen this had I thrown in the towel.


A note to readers struggling with their marriage:

Difficulties are a guarantee, and statistically, there’s a strong chance you can relate to my experience. Maybe you’re looking for a reason to end your marriage, even if only by means of emotionally suffocation. Culturally we’re led to believe that the differences we will face in marriage can be overcome by a flimsy Hollywood love. That if we’re drifting we’re incompatible and should dissolve the marriage. That our kids are better off in an environment of numb peace than contending parents. We’ve mastered the ability to justify quitting.

We’re not told that spouses respond differently to life’s challenges and scourges. That we are incapable of meeting the deep needs of our spouse. That we will change significantly through this process called life and that alone may draw us apart. More importantly, we’re rarely told or shown it’s possible and worthwhile to grin and bear it. Living a second-chance life, I know that struggle doesn’t discriminate and that flimsy self-serving love isn’t enough.

The question is will we surrender our desires to God and our spouse? Are we willing to show God’s love, the love that suffers long, is kind, does not envy, does not parade itself, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (I Corinthians 13:4). This love never fails and God will not fail in helping us!


Writing publicly was a humbling leap of faith for Julie who wrote as a private form of worship, a way to lean-in and draw-near to the Creator. A member of Redbud Writers Guild and blogger, she nurtures the wellspring of life while tackling gritty realities life (and sinful hearts) produce. Her second chance marriage has blessed her with an encouraging husband, two vivacious kids and a loving lab that keep her on her toes. Julie’s hands are spinning many plates: Wife, business partner, mama, teacher, community advocate, outdoor enthusiast and spiritual cheerleader. Visit her at Peacequility, just don't ask what's for dinner!

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