I fell deeply and madly infatuated with Lee Braaten almost immediately upon meeting him. The way his eyes crinkle when he smiles made my heart skip a beat instantly. I knew this man was something special, and I had a bit of experience with lots of not so special. As we would learn, though, infatuation is not enough to sustain a relationship, let alone a near 25-year marriage.
The saving grace for our relationship is that neither one of us ever wanted to divorce at the same time. We were both young and stubborn, and as much as it pains me to admit it, A LOT of the turmoil was my creating. Interestingly, both Lee and I were raised in non-Christian homes with parents who divorced. In fact, my own biological parents were married to other people when I was conceived. Lee’s parents divorced after nearly two decades of marriage. Needless to say, neither one of us had any idea how to navigate a healthy marriage.
Lee himself had been married and divorced years before I met him. I had been involved in a complicated relationship right out of high school that had been what I will only describe as abusive and codependent. Consequently, I was raising my son Chase as a single mother when Lee and I met. We both can say with complete transparency that we began our journey together with a few suitcases full of baggage and no clue in which direction we were headed. It was like we didn’t have the compass to find our way to happiness, not to mention a reliable road map to be happy where we were but heck if we were not going to get married and give it a try!
And try we did! And yet, within our first five years of marriage we faced huge financial problems, dealt with child custody in regard to Chase with outrageous attorney fees and welcomed our son Caleb into our lives. In addition, Caleb was born with a condition in which he would need two kidney surgeries, and I lost my (foster) father to leukemia, which broke me in many, many ways. So, here we were: I was broken, depressed, and empty. Lee was stuck, frustrated, and tired. We were lost. Yet, God in His mercy met us where we were. We heard the Gospel, accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, were baptized, and started a new path with a life-changing trajectory.
And guess what, even with our change of direction, Lee and I had even more challenges, trials, and tests as new baby Christians. Our life was full of strife and pain and loss. Lee lost a job but then took a job that required him living in Wenatchee during the work week, we faced a potential foreclosure, and I experienced my most painful season of losing babies to both miscarriage and stillbirth. And that is where we clung to Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Memorizing scripture sustained us as the word of God does. He is the bread of life and we rested in Him. Lee usually did this far better than me, but I am a quick study and followed his lead as he followed the leading of God in our lives. He was steady and patient as Jesus is with his disciples. Lee would encourage me to find comfort in God, despite our circumstances.
Being happy or content in marriage is no easy task. It takes a great deal of dying to self and perseverance, patience, and a softening of one’s heart. And that is the thing of marriage; it is a constant journey. Being married is not just a legal document that entitles me to a portion of Lee’s 401K. For us, our marriage is a connection that honors God. My marriage is the catalyst that compels me to look at Lee the way God looks at him, with great joy, love, and hope. I am finding more and more every day that being my husband’s biggest and loudest cheerleader is far more fulfilling than constantly critiquing his choice of shoes, how he spends his money, or the status of his facial hair. I love him with a love that is beyond me. I love him through my loving Jesus. I am not equipped to do this on my own. It is only through the Christ that I find the strength to love Lee the way I was designed to love him. I honor my marriage with the grace of Jesus. Do I mess up? Every day! Do I confess, repent, and try again? Every day!
Being married to Lee Braaten has brought me immeasurable joy. Seeing him smile after well over two decades together still makes my heart skip a beat. Our life together is only sustained through our complete devotion to God. We approach our marriage with Paul’s words to the Colossians “and whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through him.” This approach allows us on most days to say that we are truly, madly, deeply happy where we are, married.