Honesty. Faith. Team.
We’ve been married for 12 years now. We’re parents to 4 awesome kids. We live in a middle class neighborhood. We both have good jobs. We’re faithful believers of God’s grace and mercy. We often sit and share with each other how we are living a dream we never had for ourselves because we never thought it would be possible. We both grew up rough. Neither of our parents finished college. Neither of our parents are still married. Our families are complex, complicated, and could make millions if we were a reality TV show. We’ve each had to learn hard lessons. If we were to play “never have I ever” as a couple, we’d be pretty sober by the end of the night. So, how have we made it this far and it been so good? Three things come to mind: (1) Honesty about who we are and what we’ve done. (2) Faith in God’s grace and mercy towards us. (3) We are a team and together we would rise or fall.
Honesty. At the time we met, we were both in transition in our lives. We had both come out of long-term relationships and had been through a period where life had dumped on us. We believed in God’s grace and mercy but other people had little of either for us. Before we were together, we’d been through a host of challenges in our individual lives and in our families.
All of the following are experiences lived: Born to a teenage parent. Child abuse. Held back a year of elementary. Domestic Violence. Multiple levels of poverty. Divorced parents. Death of siblings. Family separation. Sexual abuse. One of our kids was sexually assaulted. One of our parents was sexually assaulted. School expulsion. Alternative school. College academic probation. Teenage pregnancy. Family substance abuse. Homelessness. Mental health challenges. Foreclosure. Victim of robbery. Victim of identity theft. Arrest for misdemeanor. Arrest for felony. Some things we should have been arrested for but didn’t get caught. Victim of an erroneous arrest. Affairs and unfaithfulness in relationships. Deep and close betrayal. Both in court for different reasons within a week of our wedding. Being fired from a job. Had our combined income sliced in half. Wage garnishments. Victim of financial scam. Having to quit a job that was loved. Divorce. Almost $20,000 in a single custody suit. Child support payments. Extreme credit card debt. Extreme student loan debt. One of our parents has been married 6 times. One of us has 12 full/half siblings. One of our parents currently has severe substance abuse issues. Death threats. One of us has been to counseling multiples times since high school. Depression. Anxiety. ADHD. Suicidal ideation. Impulse control issues. Eating disorder. A cancer scare. Raided our kid’s piggy banks to make ends meet. … … …
We could continue and fill the page, but I think you get the point. We’ve lived. It has been no fairytale. Much of the above list we shared with each other and talked about at great length within 2 weeks of our first date. It was almost like each of us was trying to give the other the opportunity to walk away. What we both desired was a relationship that was built on truth. We learned early on that we should not ask each other questions we didn’t want to know the answers to or that we weren’t prepared to deal with. Truth sounds like a thing everyone should want. But everyone can’t handle the truth. The truth can be messy, painful, and does come with consequences. But it also is the only way to be free. Free from guilt, shame, AND also free to forgive and heal.
Faith. Our faith is in the middle of everything we are. If our life experiences are dots on a page, our faith in God’s grace and mercy is the line that connects every single dot to make the beautiful portrait of who we are as a couple. Without our faith our portrait is left as dots like bullet holes in a cement wall with no purpose and no lasting image to be seen or used to encourage others.
Team. Brian remembers the moment he knew he would ask Shanika to be his wife. I had just finished paying off a debt that I needed to get rid of. I used every penny I had to do so and didn’t even have money to buy myself gas or groceries. I was supposed to hang out with Shanika that weekend and I had to call her to tell her that I was broke and would have to reach back out to her once I had this situation handled. I hung-up the phone and within an hour, my doorbell rang. It was Shanika. She had bags of groceries at my door. I was stunned. I said, “You bought groceries for me?!” She said, “Naw!!! I took these from my house!” I knew at that moment that I was going to marry her.
We are a team. We rise and fall together. None of our success is individual. None of our failures is sustained alone or in isolation. We do it together. We don’t hold each other back. We don’t leave one another in the dust. We are always rooting for each other. Nothing comes between us; not even the kids. We love them dearly. But they know that mommy and daddy are each other’s 1st team. Our devotion to one another is stronger than any bond we have on this earth. We absolutely love each other. But it takes more than love to make this marriage work.
Honesty. Faith. Team. We hope that every marriage would be built on honesty, faith, and team. You may notice that our faith did not come first or last. That’s not a slight to or in any way diminishing to our faith. It’s quite the opposite. It’s the middle because it is what connects honesty and team. Sometimes we fail to be as honest as we want and we fail as a team. But God still shows up and keeps holding us together. Our faith is the most important thing. It’s the center of everything.
Rev. Brian & Shanika Tillman Atlanta, GA