While serving my mission in Argentina (more than 15 years ago, feels like forever), I had two companions that taught me about marriage. Although, at the time, I didn’t realize it. Before I proceed, I must take a minute and explain that Nicole (then Havelange) Sheen, while my favorite companion and still my dear friend, is not one of these. I say that because anyone that knows Nicole and may be reading this could get seriously confused. Ok, back to the other two, Duran and Benitez. Ironically, they are both Argentine natives and freakishly small, neither measuring quite five foot.
Durán was my third companion. She was by far my toughest companion. She never got out of bed in the morning and always complained about something, usually not feeling well. There were a lot of days she never left the apartment at all. I was stuck there reading and feeling useless. However, on P-day she was up and at it. When she did get out of bed on regular days, she would never do companionship study and took forever to get dressed. Finally, being the senior companion, and never planning with me, she would insist that we go visit one of the Bolivian families in the vineyards. That would mean that the remainder of our day was to be spent taking a bus out to the middle of nowhere, walking another 2 kilometers, and then having the hospitality of the Bolivians insist that we eat with them. They couldn’t afford to feed us. The Bolivian immigrants in Mendoza had come there to harvest grapes. They worked all day and were paid by the baskets they filled. They made $0.25 for every basket. These were huge baskets and they barely made ends meet. However, Durán would insist we spend our evening there, instead of in town and less of a burden. To top things off, she was such a shame based person. She would tell me, every chance she got, what I was doing wrong and how to fix it and how it made me a disgrace to the Lord. Oh, how my resentment toward her festered. Honestly, I still don’t like her much. It was such a waste of six weeks of my mission and the Lord’s time.
Sara Benitez and her family now.
Then, there was Benitez. I was her second companion and on the last leg of my mission. She was so little that no matter how small I made my steps she still had to take two to stay at my side. Benitez did nothing in a hurry but she did it. When I asked her to complete the 100 hour challenge with me for the last week of my mission, she never hesitated. We would awake hours earlier to be out of the apartment by the time most missionaries were getting up. We would come home just in time to make curfew. I was 18 months in the mission at this point so 16 hours of walking and talking and service wasn’t too hard on my body physically. But Benitez had less than four months in the mission and had to speed walk to stay with me. There were nights when she would fall asleep at her desk waiting for the shower. She would often doze off during companionship study in the morning and almost always at lunch, whether in the homes of members or not. She never complained. The Sunday before I left for home, we had gone home for lunch before our district meeting. I walked into our living area from the kitchen to hand her something to eat. Her head was on her desk as her feet dangled (they didn’t touch the ground in any chair). I figured she was asleep from exhaustion. We had done it! We had worked, in the street for more than 1oo hours. I nudged her a little to see if she was hungry. Then it happened. She lifted up her little, round, tear stained cheeks and thanked me. She had given it her all to ensure that I finished strong and she was thanking me for helping her feel so good about herself. At that moment, she became one of the greatest examples of selfless love in my life.
Which companion am I to my spouse? Do I think only of me and then cope with my inadequacies by shaming him into submission? Do I work, with all my might, to make him better and in return I grow?
Sadly, and as Josué can attest, I spent much of our marriage as Durán. In my efforts to avoid my own shortcomings and challenges and mostly my insecurities, I shamed him. Oh, how I shamed him! Every chance I got I would point out how I thought he failing me. I was mean. I know on more than one occasion I crossed the line to verbal abuse. I would mentally devalue him on a daily basis. For what? So I could avoid me? It didn’t matter how hard I tried to blame him for my unhappiness, it was never enough to give me security and belonging. I hated me, not him. In my efforts to make him carry my self-loathing and lack of self value, I was driving him to his vices. This would then reload my weapons of marital destruction with justification. What a mess I made.
Then, it happened. One circumstance lead to another and the Lord carefully crafted the details of our lives into a masterful change. I found myself faced with the challenge of forgiveness. Before I could embark on the journey of forgiving Josué’s offenses (for he did have some, no one is perfect.) I would have to recognize and forgive my own. The Lord would require me to own my part of our failing marriage and demand that I become genuinely honest with myself about me.
It was the beginning of my transition from Durán into Benitez. It is (I say “is” because I still work at it) the toughest , most rewarding thing I have ever done. Don’t get me wrong, I know Josué is no saint and he has his own stuff to improve but that’s his stuff and I can finally let him deal with it. It’s taken nearly 15 years to get to the point where I recognize that his trials and shortcomings are my trials and shortcomings. That my anxiety and fear and self doubt are his anxiety and fear and self doubt. This journey has made him my favorite companion of all time. He has been gone this week to tend to the business of his father’s death and I miss him. I miss him a lot. He has been by side for every doctor’s appointment, biopsy, chemo session, and pharmacy pick up I have had. I was so glad Amanda was there yesterday for chemo but I still miss him.
Please don’t miss understand me. I do not believe that all marriages are healthy. I don’t believe that everyone should get in a relationship and stay regardless of the circumstance. In fact, I know a few people that should most definitely get out because they are not okay. But, for me, it has been worth saving. You may ask how we have done it. Well, it started with an article by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, entitled Divorce. I read this thing a millions a times. I have it posted in my journal and have marked all over it. Then, it was a prayer. I kneeled down and told my Father in Heaven that there was no way I could forgive myself or Josue for the damages in our marriage without help. I will never forget that weeping prayer as I begged for my own forgiveness for not loving myself the way God does. Then, I put myself to work. I focused on the counsel from Elder Oaks:
“Spouses should do all within their power to preserve their marriages. They should follow the marriage enrichment counsel in the First Presidency’s message in the April 2007 Ensign and Liahona. To avoid so-called “incompatibility,” they should be best friends, kind and considerate, sensitive to each other’s needs, always seeking to make each other happy. They should be partners in family finances, working together to regulate their desires for temporal things.
Of course, there can be times when one spouse falls short and the other is wounded and feels pain. When that happens, the one who is wronged should balance current disappointments against the good of the past and the brighter prospects of the future.
Don’t treasure up past wrongs, reprocessing them again and again. In a marriage relationship, festering is destructive; forgiving is divine. Plead for the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord to forgive wrongs (as President Faust has just taught us so beautifully), to overcome faults, and to strengthen relationships.”
I was reminded last night how much my marriage means to me. I understands the words of President Spencer W. Kimball “Two individuals approaching the marriage altar must realize that to attain the happy marriage which they hope for they must know that marriage … means sacrifice, sharing, and even a reduction of some personal liberties. It means long, hard economizing. It means children who bring with them financial burdens, service burdens, care and worry burdens; but also it means the deepest and sweetest emotions of all.” This emotion grows stronger with each effort that I make and Josue reciprocates. I love how Elder Oaks summed it up, “In all of this, we should realize that a good marriage does not require a perfect man or a perfect woman. It only requires a man and a woman committed to strive together toward perfection.”
Sometimes, I am still a Duran but I hope to be a Benitez. Until then, I just want people to know, it has been a lot easier to be a good wife as I have grown to understand the value I have to my Father in Heaven. If we learn to love ourselves they way our Father does, it makes the decision of staying or leaving easier to understand. I would hope that everyone, before making such a decision, can say to themselves that they have honestly talked to the Lord about their own inadequacies before making a decision about their marriage. If not, get it done. You might be surprised how much He loves you.
P.S. Special thanks to one of my “Elle’s Angels” who reminded me, last night, how important priorities are. You rock Danyelle!