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UNCLAIMED BAGGAGEDealing with the Past on Your Way to a Stronger Marriage
By DON FRANK JAN FRANK
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2003 Jan Frank
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR HISTORY
A month and a half after we moved into our dream home, Don woke in the middle of the night to some strange noises. He got out of bed to investigate. From the upstairs bathroom he yelled, "We have a flood!" The toilet was shooting a stream of water over the bathroom. Even after he turned off the water supply line, everything was soaked. His feet sank into the carpet with a sloshing sound.
When I met him on the stairway, he wailed, "Everything is ruined-our house, our new house!" We embraced and prayed. "Lord," I said, "I know You gave us this house, and even though we don't understand, we're going to trust You. I know this is no accident. You knew it would happen because You're sovereign and You're in control. Please help us in this situation and in some way redeem this."
Within minutes of our call, the fire department was at our door. They vacuumed up forty-five gallons of water from our downstairs family room, hallway, bath, and den. It made no difference because water still poured through a light fixture in our downstairs bathroom. The ceiling in our den, directly below the upstairs bathroom, threatened to give way. We guessed that earlier in the week, the plumber had hooked up the water supply line improperly. The line had blown off, causing hundreds of gallons of water to seep through the walls, floor, and ceiling for four hours and damaging almost the whole house. We had suffered significant losses that required extensive repair.
A friend told me about a man in our church named Brad who was in the "restoration business." I didn't know such companies existed. I called Brad and, although he passed on the project, I learned what restoration companies do. They inspect a home that has suffered fire or flood and assess the damage, implement a plan of restoration, and at completion, return to the homeowner a home in better condition than the original.
The repairs on our house took the next six months. My life was consumed with contacting insurance companies, getting estimates, choosing new carpeting and wallpaper, coordinating schedules with workmen, and figuring out which repairs needed to be done first. It was a tedious process full of setbacks and unanticipated stress. We lived for six months on bare, cold concrete floors. When the carpet layers called to schedule installation, I realized we would be moving out of our house for the second time, only to move back in the same day. It was exhausting! It required so much mental energy that I couldn't even get excited about the "newness" that was enveloping us. I never would have chosen this.
But when it was finally over, I looked around at my new carpeting and wallpaper, newly painted rooms, and restored furniture in amazement. Out of this damaging interruption we had been given a fresh start. Our home was even better than when we purchased it, and the entire repair cost had been covered.
A FRESH START
Stunned, I saw that what we experienced in our home was analogous to what we had lived in our marriage. Don and I married unaware of our need for restoration. When we married over twenty-three years ago, we looked like the all-American couple. Both of us were committed Christians who loved each other and desired to establish our relationship on the principles outlined in God's Word. We wanted, as most couples do, a satisfying marriage, and we were dedicated to pursuing that goal. Neither of us had any idea that our backgrounds would play a significant role in shaping our marriage.
Both Don and I suffered some devastating losses in our lives before marriage. I was a sexual abuse victim. Don was an adult child of an alcoholic. We married with the knowledge of our backgrounds but were naïve about the effect they would have in the day-to-day working out of our marriage. We were unaware that our histories had anything to do with our present. We lived as though we had no histories, simply because we assumed that our history started when we got married.
We couldn't have been more wrong. We discovered through circumstances and strife that our histories were seeping into every room of our marriage "house." Our histories showed up in the kitchen each time we had a meal. They were in the bathroom when we got ready for work in the morning. And our histories flooded the bedroom, though we tried desperately to keep them from drowning our hopeful hearts.
At the time, these discoveries appeared to be damaging interruptions. In reality, God's loving grace was at work. Early in our marriage, He stepped in to change our direction. We would not have pursued that direction on our own, but now we're glad for it. God took us back to help us go forward.
Ours is a love story. God loved us enough to help us realize we could not go on in our relationship until we dealt honestly with our pasts. He loved us through the painful process of coming to grips with the losses, and He led us along the path of restoration. He provided abundant grace as we sought Him for healing and forgiveness. He patiently instructed us about how to build a strong foundation of love and faith. He took us back to our foundations, helping us do the necessary repair work and teaching us what it takes to maintain a healthy, satisfying marriage. We have a strong, loving marriage today. Although I (Jan) am telling most of the stories here in my voice, this book is very much our story. Don and I have walked this process together, and the insights we will share with you come out of our joint experience in our own marriage, in working with other couples in seminars and conferences, and in my private practice as a counselor.
God is in the restoration business! He gave us back something better than what we started with in the beginning.
I know many couples like us. You may be one of them. You may have married your mate unaware of how your history affects your relationship. You haven't assessed the damage, and you're living as if it had not happened. You may have thought, as we did, that your history began when you married. But this approach can be hazardous to the health of your marriage.
Imagine for a moment what would have happened after our flood if both Don and I regarded the damage in our home as insignificant. What if we had continued to walk around on the drenched carpeting and determined that all would work out in time if we did our best to go on? After a while, the weight of the saturated carpet upstairs might have caused the floor to cave in. Over time, the wood might have rotted. The mildew behind walls and under carpet might not have been visible, but the effect would have been inescapable. These conditions would have been harmful and potentially dangerous to all living in our home.
What if, instead of ignoring the damage, we had acknowledged it and had taken some initial steps of repair, but had found it required too much time and work? We might have removed the carpeting and fixed the water supply line but not bothered to repair the walls, floor, and furniture. We certainly could have adjusted to living on the cement slab, but I wonder what effect that would have had on our children or visitors? Because the repair had required more effort than we'd bargained for, would that have been reason enough to give up?
What if, instead of ignoring or giving up, we had denied that the flood had occurred at all? That would have been impossible-and dangerous.
How many couples do these very things! I know couples in all three categories! Some marry with histories of damage and try to live out their marriages without reckoning with what happened, not realizing the significance of their histories. Others take some initial steps of repair but become discouraged and abandon the continuous work toward restoration. They adjust to living in less than what God designed for marriage. Some refuse to believe that their histories affect their present and continue to live submerged by them.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR HISTORY?
Your history may not be full of devastation. It may not require rebuilding from the ground up. It may require only minor repairs, like replacing a water heater in your home. In such repairs, the time and effort required are minimal, but if you ignore them, life could be uncomfortable for years to come with cold showers and no running water!
All of us have histories that include both good and bad. Discomfort or disaster is inescapable if the history is left unheeded. If, however, that water heater or flood is attended to, lifelong distress or destruction can be averted. I'm so thankful that God exposed the overflow of our histories that had the potential to wash out our marriage.
UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE HISTORY
We all have both history and baggage. Our history is made up of the events and experiences that shape our lives. Our baggage is the emotional response to our history. Our emotional baggage may be claimed or unclaimed. What we claim is what we recognize as ours and deal with forthrightly. Unclaimed baggage is what we ignore, deny, or minimize.
If you've traveled through airports, you know that after deplaning, most travelers head for the baggage claim area to pick up their bags. You stand around a huge carousel, waiting for your bags to appear. Once you spot them, you pull them off and you're on your way.
Also in the baggage claim area are bags that are set aside because no one has claimed them. Every year the airlines accumulate hundreds of items that remain unclaimed. These are placed in a storage area and held for a prescribed time, waiting for their owners to claim them.
In counseling, I see many people who have areas in their lives where unclaimed baggage has been stored. They're often unaware that they carry a garment bag full of resentment over some unresolved hurt from a previous marriage. They may carry a duffle bag of depression over losing someone they loved, or an overnight case of doubt about God's love due to betrayals in their past. This unclaimed baggage history is like the faulty water heater or silent flood in the house. It has the potential to ruin a marriage if it is not claimed and dealt with.
Your history and the baggage you carry as a result are linked. When you marry, you come face-to-face with your partner's past as well as your own. Even though you cannot change your histories, with God's help you can learn to deal with the resulting baggage and build a stronger marriage. That is what this book is about. You will discover what makes up your history, the baggage that has resulted, what to do with it, how to distinguish whose baggage is whose, and how your history can actually enhance your relationship. You will find, as we did, that once you've claimed your baggage, you can unpack it, unload the burden of it from your marriage, and learn to travel lighter to the glory of God.
IS IT BIBLICAL TO LOOK BACK?
As a counselor, I have seen the impact of history played out over and over. Not just in the lives of individuals, but also in families. Certain patterns are transferred from one generation to the next. Who hasn't heard of families in which alcoholism or abuse runs rampant? What about adultery and greed? We learn about relationships within our families, and we pass on to our children what we learn if we don't give God access to change us.
Yet Christian premarital classes, books about marriage, and weekend marriage retreats often neglect to mention the role history plays in our marriages. Christians seem to resist looking into the past. It's almost as if we deny we have one. But Scripture admonishes us to "look to the rock from which you were hewn" (Isaiah 51:1, NASB), and provides countless examples of faith heroes whose past histories played significant roles in their present and future.
Consider the prophet Samuel. His mother dedicated him to the Lord's service, and when he was about three years old, she took him to Eli the priest. Eli raised Samuel and taught the boy the priestly duties.
Eli had two sons of his own, Hophni and Phineas, who were both priests. First Samuel 2:12 says, "Eli's sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord." God spoke through Samuel as a young boy, and His message to Eli was, "For I [God] told him [Eli] that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he [Eli] failed to restrain them" (1 Samuel 3:13). Eli served the Lord faithfully as a priest and taught Samuel well in ways of the Lord, but fell down when it came to fathering his sons.
The Scripture goes on: "The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord" (1 Samuel 3:19-20). Samuel was a great man of God as a prophet, intercessor, priest, and judge. All his prophecies came to pass: he interceded for Israel's great victory over the Philistines, he offered sacrifices to God for the people, and he provided judgment in both moral and spiritual matters all his life. However,
When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges of Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. (1 Samuel 8:1-3)
Sound familiar? Eli had taught Samuel in the ways of the Lord, but Samuel faltered, as did Eli, when it came to fatherhood.
"We cannot do what we have never seen done," write Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend in How People Grow. "We need models to show us how.... God designed humans with a need to see others first do what they need to learn, and then to internalize that modeling and be able to repeat it. The modeling we experience has a lasting effect upon us, for good or ill."
Why did God include in His Word the tale of Samuel's failure as a father? Is this simply a recording of historical information, or is there something we can learn? What does the New Testament have to say regarding our history?
Think about the apostle Paul. He was a man with a history. How do we know about Paul's history? He wrote about it repeatedly. He recorded his history in 1 Corinthians 15:9; 2 Corinthians 11:24-33; Galatians 1:13-17; and Philippians 3:4-6. Luke wrote about Paul's history in Acts, reviewing his conversion and how Paul recounted his history before kings and crowds who opposed his message (Acts 22:3-11; 23:6; 24:10-21; 26:2-32).
You might be confused.
Excerpted from UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE by DON FRANK JAN FRANK Copyright © 2003 by Jan Frank. Excerpted by permission.
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