Finding a New Dream
Authors Ryan and Selena Frederick talk about their early years of marriage when they headed overseas to fulfill Selena's dream of working on a horse farm in Switzerland. Selena worked as an au pair/groomer and Ryan worked as a stable boy, until Ryan's health took a turn for the worse. Ryan tells how an infection in his heart valve and open heart surgery changed his perspective on life and tested his marriage.
About the Guest
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FierceMarriage.com in 2013 when they felt God calling them to share, with brutal transparency, the struggles God had helped them overcome. Since then, Fierce Marriage has grown into a thriving online community with hundreds of thousands of readers each month. Ryan and Selena have two daughters and live in Tacoma, Washington.
Ryan and Selena Frederick talk about their early years of marriage when they worked overseas to fulfill Selena’s dream–until Ryan’s health took a turn for the worse. Ryan tells how open heart surgery changed his perspective on life and tested his marriage.
Finding a New Dream
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, September 17th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. What kind of changes did Ryan Frederick make in his life and marriage as a result of his second chance? We’ll hear about that from him today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to try to recalibrate how we all think about love today because, honestly, I think we’ve got such an artificial/such a commercially-sold idea of what love is that we’ve lost the big picture on this whole subject. That gets carried into marriage; and all of a sudden, people have wrong expectations and draw wrong conclusions because they don’t know what love is.
This is one of the things we try to do at the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways—help recalibrate couples so that they understand what they were promising to each other when they promised to love, honor, cherish. I’m mentioning that because, as you’ve heard me say this week, we’ve got a special offer going on for FamilyLife Today listeners. If you sign up for one of our upcoming weekend getaways for couples—the Weekend to Remember—you sign up to attend one this fall, and you can save 50 percent off the regular registration fee as long as you sign up this week.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information. These getaways are designed to let you relax, unwind, spend time together, focus on each other, and learn more about God’s design for marriage—strengthen the relationship you have with each other. Again, right now, you’ll save 50 percent off the regular registration fee for the getaway if you call 1-800-FL-TODAY; or you can find out more or register, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
This weekend away together, like what we’re going to be talking about today, is all about getting a better perspective/a biblical perspective on the subject of love.
Dave: It’s interesting. Here is a word you don’t often couple with the word love: fierce. Think about that; it’s interesting. Ann was once told—this was a couple of years ago—somebody is trying to describe her.
Dave: They said, “Here is the word I think of when I think of Ann: fierce.” When I heard it, I was like, “Oh yeah!” I liked it; she got all upset.
Ann: I didn’t get upset. I started asking people, “What do you think fierce means?” because I thought, “For a woman, is that the word I want to be described as?” So, I was asking, “Is that a good word or a bad word?”
But one of the things I love is the title of this book we’re talking about today: Fierce Marriage.
Bob: Yes; the book is written by Ryan and Selena Frederick, who join us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, guys.
Ryan: Hey, thanks for having us.
Selena: Glad to be here.
Bob: Ryan and Selena are the parents of two with a third on the way.
Bob: They live in the Pacific Northwest and big bloggers; right?—like your blog has really blown up.
Ryan: Yes; God has been gracious. It started out—my mom was the only one who read our blog. [Laughter]
Bob: Then she shared it with her friends on Facebook®.
Ryan: Yes; now, it’s just a bunch of moms. [Laughter] Yes. No; now, I think—I don’t know what the numbers are—but God has been gracious, and it has been fun to be fruitful.
Bob: Part of what caused your blog to catch on is the story you told about what happened early in your marriage that was—it was determinative for what your marriage would be. We need to paint the picture: you guys got married in the middle of college.
Bob: You were both sophomores. You just finished your sophomore years: 20 and 21 years old. You are very poor; you were a barista, at the time; right?
Selena: Oh, yes.
Bob: You were a janitor; right?
Ryan: Master of the custodial arts. [Laughter]
Dave: There you go!
Ann: That’s good; I like it.
Bob: So, you’re squeaking by without a whole lot of money; but there was a job opportunity—
Bob: —that came up that was right where your heart is; right?
Selena: Yes; yes. There was a job opportunity overseas. We always wanted to go to Europe. That’s what you do—right?—after college, with no money, and student loans.
I have always enjoyed riding horses and doing the equestrian sport—just some fun, close to my heart. I found a job as a nanny on this private farm that had all these horses that jump things, so they are called jumpers. It looked amazing; it was beautiful. It was in Switzerland. I said, “Hey, Ryan, I found this job on the internet.” [Laughter]
Bob: Now, wait; a nanny for kids?
Selena: —for kids. They did have one little girl.
Bob: So, you’re going to take care of the little girl—
Selena: It’s a private family; yes. It was a—
Bob: —in Switzerland on a horse farm.
Selena: Yes; and I get to ride their horses.
Ryan: —and train them.
Ann: So, Ryan, what did you think?—like, “This sounds like a great plan”?
Ryan: Yes; I said, “Let’s do it.”
Ryan: Yes; and I think that caught Selena off guard.
Bob: What was your part in all of this?
Ryan: I was a tagalong hire. [Laughter] Selena was the real treasure, which is typical; right? But you were going to au pair/groom, and I was just going to be like a farmhand, basically.
Selena: doing all the dirty jobs.
Bob: A stable boy—
Bob: —is that what you were?
Ryan: Stable boy; yes.
Ann: You had been married a couple of years at this point?
Selena: No; about a year-and-a-half.
Ryan: So, we showed up. Once we got passed the jet lag and stuff, we got to work.
Selena: Yes; yes.
Ryan: It was hard work. I think we never worked harder for less in our entire lives.
Bob: Was it magical and amazing, or was it like—
Selena: It was for me.
Selena: It was for me.
Bob: And not for you?
Ryan: Not for me. [Laughter] The work was fun, but I think—I was actually sick, and that’s what we talked about in the book. I had—I didn’t realize it, but I had contracted an infection during—it was finals; it was finals week.
Selena: —finals week.
Ryan: I was staying up way too late, and didn’t realize it, but I had—my heart had got infected. I thought it was just a cough, and it was kind of persistent. It persisted through finals and through the last month before we left. Then we flew out, and I remember being in Copenhagen in the layover. I was just like: “Something is terribly wrong with me. I don’t know what’s going on.” I was shivering and just couldn’t stop coughing/couldn’t sleep.
We get there; I thought I was just sick—you know, sleep it off. We got there, and our boss was gracious enough to let us kind of take a day to catch up. I just—I wasn’t getting any better, so I asked if I could go see a doctor. Not wanting to pay for medicine, I got travelers insurance for, I think, $35.
Selena: Best $35 we ever spent. [Laughter]
Ryan: Ooh, baby, yes—best 35 bucks we ever spent.
Went and saw a local physician—he said: “I don’t know what’s wrong with you. You have a blood infection. Something is wrong.” I now know it was a heart infection; they didn’t know that at the time. I just went in for this testing, and they gave me antibiotics and pain killers and got back to work. I got back to work—did that for about two weeks.
Bob: Were you getting better? Were you feeling better?
Ryan: Well, I felt better.
Selena: Yes; he felt great.
Ryan: Yes; then God’s providence—right?—He is good at making these things happen in dramatic ways that show that He is still God/He is still in control. It was a Swiss Independence Day—it was a holiday. I ran out of my antibiotics, and then it was like the dam broke. All of a sudden, all the infection that had been holding back just—boom—just full force. Very severe fevers—
Ryan: —and very severe—you know, sweating through the night but then, also, chills. I would be shaking uncontrollably. Monday rolls around. Nothing is open because it was their Independence week. I thought, “I will make it through until Tuesday.” That whole day, it was the hot and cold cycles again. I told my boss I couldn’t work. He thought I was a huge slacker—just American slacker; right? [Laughter]
Tuesday rolls around, and I call in. They weren’t even open, so I just decided to go to the doctor. I wasn’t going to make an appointment or anything. I get all the way into the clinic, and I burst open the doors. They look at me, “Oh, it’s an American kid.” Normally, I would try to speak Swiss-German, which I have kind of a unique—it was a unique experience—all of that was just out the window. I was like: “You need to help me now. I feel like I’m dying.” They said, “Well, you don’t have an appointment.” [Laughter]
Dave: Oh, wow!
Ryan: I said: “I don’t care. You’re going to help me now.” They got the point. They said: “Well, your doctor is not here. Your doctor is gone for the week on vacation.” I thought: “Okay; this is great. I am going to die right here in this lobby.”
By God’s grace, his practice partner was there. The guy—the other doctor in house—he was there. They said: “Okay; well, he’ll try to fit you in. We’ll take you back to this little room in the back.” There is this metal table. The doctor comes in. He looks at my chart, and he had kind of this puzzled look on his face. He looks at me, and he listens to my heart with a stethoscope. He looks at my chart and then takes another look and then, finally, says, “Okay; we need to get you to the hospital now.”
I did what every red-blooded American husband would have said, “Well, how much is that going to cost?” [Laughter] He looked at me—I’ll never forget this—he said: “It’s either that or your life. You choose.” I had no idea what was going on at this point.
Ryan: Then they went and called Selena, who was doing her thing in the barn.
Bob: You knew that your husband had walked to the doctor’s.
Bob: You figured he had the flu?
Selena: “He’ll be back later.”
Bob: So, when you get a call that they are taking him to the hospital?
Selena: Yes; my boss came in and said: “Uh, Ryan is sick. We need to go to the hospital.” I was like: “Hospital? Why do we need to go there? Maybe, they need to keep him overnight or something. I don’t know,”—just kind of, again, 22/23-year-olds, “It’s fine.”
Ryan: Invincible; yes.
Selena: Yes; invincible.
Ann: Ryan, what happened, then, at the hospital?
Ryan: Yes; they got me into the hospital. They decided to do an ultrasound; because they had to find out what was going on with my heart, because they heard the murmur. Sure enough, they saw right there, on my mitral valve, there was a bacterial growth about two-and-half centimeters long, just flapping around like a flag flying in the wind. They said, “Okay, we’ve got to figure this out now.”
They tried to do some antibiotics and stuff, but essentially they said—they called the state hospital of Zurich/the head of cardiology for Switzerland. They said: “We have this American kid. He’s not on our”—they are socialized medicine—“He’s not Swiss, and he is 22 years old. What do we do?” They said: “We don’t care what it costs. Get him here as soon as you can.” We got in an ambulance and drove across town. Selena was there in all of her horse stuff, totally covered in mud; yes.
Bob: Did they wind up doing surgery that day?
Ryan: Well, they went there. They basically put me on a cocktail of antibiotics, because they didn’t know what strain of bacteria it was. It took too long to get a culture going, so they did that for a week. It was already—it had grown, I think, to 2.7 centimeters at that time. They said: “We’ve just got to open you up. It’s not—we don’t have time because it could break off and cause a stroke or loss of limb.”
Bob: Wait; you’re 23 years old, having heart surgery in Switzerland?
Ryan: That’s exactly right; yes.
Ann: You had been married a year-and-a-half.
Bob: Mom and Dad are back in the States?
Selena: They flew out—
Bob: I bet.
Selena: —once he was in the—
Selena: —state hospital. They did fly out.
Ann: So, what happened? How scared were you guys?
Selena: I think we still had that: “Okay, so, surgery is the next step and then recovery.” You just kind of assume that you are going to be okay. You assume that: “He’s just going to have a long surgery. There’s going to be this time of recovery; and then we’ll probably go home after that,”—I’m assuming—“back to the States.”
Bob: You didn’t lapse into fear?
Selena: No, not too much; only because I don’t think I knew the severity of the situation. My mom is a nurse, and I think she didn’t want to scare me with the probability of him—I mean, they were honest with us and said that open heart surgery is a big deal.
Ryan: I knew that there were risks, but I think we were just so young and naïve in terms of—
Ryan: —the mortality and the—you know.
Dave: Yet, you say, in the book, when you wake up after that surgery, it’s a moment that changes everything.
Ryan: That’s when it really hit, and I woke up. I cracked my eyes open: “I have another chance at life.” I thought—I thought that was over. I had given up hope because, at that point, you have to go in, thinking: “This is/could be the reality. I’ve accepted that. I hope for more.” That’s when, I think, that realization/that appreciation really kicked in. From then on, there’s been this sort of urgency to life. I kind of feel like I was given a second chance.
Bob: You’re [Selena] still kind of happy-go-lucky: “I’m sure it will be okay”?
Selena: Yes; I mean, I was just like, “Okay, I’ll meet you in the morning.” I get very just kind of task-oriented—
Bob: Yes; I get it.
Selena: —in crazy situations.
Selena: “Okay, what’s the next step?”—and that kind of keeps me sane. I think, during surgery, I listened to worship music; and I was journaling; and I was just praying to God that he would come out.
I think that’s kind of when it hit me more—was while he’s just under the knife. You’re just sitting there, waiting and waiting to hear either way. I think I had a hope and general peace; but again, I think it was the aftermath that really showed me the gift of life that God has given us, and how big and invasive the surgery was, and how the recovery was years and not just—and it wasn’t just like your body healing. It was us learning to heal and be together again, because he was very changed after that.
Ryan: I was a different person, personality-wise—
Ryan: —very impatient/very angry—I was angry at God, and that bled into our marriage. I was angry at Selena for small things. I think we learned how to communicate through that.
Bob: —for weeks or—
Selena: I’d say months.
Selena: Yes; yes.
Ryan: Yes; for sure.
Selena: It was just learning how to be his wife again, I think, and learning who he was after this.
Ann: Did that scare you, Selena, that this is the new normal?
Selena: I had an underlying hope. Again, I’m, “This just must be God’s—
Bob: You’re an optimist.
Ann: Yes; you are an optimist.
Selena: I think I am an optimist because I thought: “Well, he’ll come back around eventually, maybe; hopefully. [Laughter] God, please!” But it took longer than I expected, I think; and that was very challenging to walk through.
Ryan: I think one part of it—that maybe why you felt that kind of sense of unshakeable hope is—we’ve always been so committed to our covenant. I think that has been part of our DNA, even since that dating DTR talk in that car—is that we knew we weren’t—you knew I wasn’t going to go anywhere.
Ryan: I knew that you weren’t going to go anywhere—that I could be a jerk, and you would still stick around; and we could work through it together. Then, I think, our friendship is what kind of helped us to work through—boots on the ground—get through some of the harder stuff.
Bob: Did you know that you were being a short-tempered jerk?
Ryan: Yes; I remember fighting so vividly, even at the hospital; because, you know, when you are post-op like that—and you’re prone to this—so I have a heart defect that actually caused this infection to happen. Every time they check on you, it’s another chance of finding—
Bob: —something wrong.
Ryan: —another thing wrong.
Bob: Yes; right.
Ryan: I wanted to go home. I felt like I was ready to go home after a week. The doctor was just like, “There is no way you’re going home.”
Ryan: I was ready to get on a plane; so there was bitterness there, too.
Dave: As you walk out of this, and you start your new life, there’s this tenacity. Is that where fierce comes into your story?
Selena: Yes; that whole experience is very representative, I think, of how God works in us; right? We’re all kind of broken and have this brokenness in our hearts. He physically and, very literally, had that; but we all come in with sin in our hearts. We keep taking medicine to kind of keep everything at bay; but we need the Heart Surgeon to come in, with His skilled hands, and bring healing and bring that ability, I feel like, to be fierce and stay together.
We say it takes a fierce tenacity that never gives up and never gives in. When he’s—when you said that Ann was fierce, I was like: “Yes! Awesome!” That sounds so awesome to me because I think we give up too soon, as a generation. We don’t fight longer; we’re just too ready to jump ship and go to the next thing. I don’t know if that’s an idol of pleasure/an idol of pride or fear, but I think that it does take a fierceness and tenacity that God gives us to be able to walk with each other.
Ryan: I think, yes; I love everything you said. I think fierce is really—when you think of love, you don’t think of apathy; right? You think of—you care deeply, and there is a fierceness there. If you love something deeply, you are going to fight for it.
I think that’s where that word, fierce, came from for us—is that we realized that: “Yes; there’s that trend—people tend to be more apathetic to their covenant.” We’re saying: “No; this is worth fighting for. Fight for your marriage like everything is at stake; because, in a lot of ways, it is—everything is at stake.” That’s where that fierce tenacity—it never gives up; it never gives in—comes from.
Dave: I also read—I’m not putting words in your mouth—I saw this coming out of your book—the fierceness of the heart of God for us: the gospel.
Ann: That’s what I think, too.
Dave: Talk about that, because the gospel is a big part of what you describe Fierce Marriage—
Dave: —being centered on. What does that mean?
Ryan: Oh, it changes everything. I mean, I mention, I think, at one point, 1 John 4:19—that “We love because He first loved us.” Now, if we actually get what the gospel is—for a long time in our marriage, we didn’t even understand the gospel. I don’t think we heard the first—like the true full gospel until just five/six years ago.
Selena: Yes; a lot of it was based on us—and kind of what we do and how we can achieve in some ways.
Ryan: Right; I have this mental picture of: “If we see our sin for what it is and we see God for who He is, it creates this immense chasm/this need for an arbiter—somebody to bridge that gap—the bigger that gap, the bigger the Savior.” The more accurate view we have of yourself, the more accurate view we have of God/the more accurate view we have of Jesus; and therefore, we accept His love in an astounding way when you say, “I am so utterly lost and not deserving and, yet, You’ve still given that to me.”
One of the things we write about a lot—or we’ve said, at least, a few times—is we think, “How could I possibly hold my spouse’s sin against them if God has not held my sin against me?”—right? That’s what I mean when I say a fierce tenacity or a fierce gospel; right?—when you think about the gospel being fierce, rather—
Ryan: —is it’s this idea that: “I’m loved so much. How can I not love my spouse in return?”
Bob: You mentioned 1 John 4:19 a couple of times which, by the way, is on our wedding invitation.
Ryan: Yes; I love that.
Bob: When we sent out our invitation—
Selena: Love it.
Bob: —40-plus years ago, that was—
Selena: Love it.
Bob: —the verse for us: “We love because He first loved us.”
We’re going through 1 John in church. It’s interesting—John starts that letter and he says: “Here is the goal. I want you to have fellowship with us and with God.” Then he says, “So, for that to happen, here is the message. The message is: ‘God is light, and in Him, there is no darkness at all.’ God is holier than you realized.”
Selena: So good.
Bob: And then he goes, “And sin is a bigger deal than you realized.” He goes into this whole section about: “If you say that you are a child of God, and you are walking in darkness, you don’t understand sin. You have to confess your sin.” He goes—but then he gets to this point—he says: “My little children”—he said—“I’m writing this to you. I want you to know that you have an advocate before the Father, who is there, pleading your case.”
Tim Keller makes this point, and this was brilliant. I mean, this was one of those things that I was just, “Wow.” He says, “The advocate, who is pleading our case before the Father—He is not asking God to be merciful toward us.” He said, “He is asking God to be just toward us.” He said: “God has been merciful in sending His Son. Now—when the accuser comes and says, ‘But this—this is what they’ve done,’—the advocate says: ‘Yes; but, Father, the price has been paid; remember? We don’t take a second debt. Justice demands that You let them go.’”
We have the just—in fact, he says: “’We have an advocate, ‘Jesus Christ, the righteous’—that’s how John describes Him.” Then he says: “He points to His own propitiation. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for our sins, but for everybody’s sins.”
John says: “You want fellowship with God?—here is where it starts. God is more holy than you realize; sin is a real deal, and God’s made a way to fix that.” That message of the gospel, which is about how we can have fellowship with Him; but John goes on, and he says, “And that’s how we have fellowship with one another.”
Bob: That’s why, as you bring this into the marriage—understanding the gospel rightly—spills into every human relationship we have—
Bob: —and reshapes every human relationship we have.
Ryan: Absolutely; and I think that starts with identity—right?—understanding that exact principle: that Jesus is asking God to be just, and He is being just; and it is done.
Ryan: It’s finished; my identity is secure. What 1 John says is: “We are walking in the light as He is in the light; and you will have fellowship, and you will be cleansed from all unrighteousness.” There is—fellowship and purity are to be had on the other side of walking in the light.
We spent a lot of our last few months and the last year thinking through, “What does it mean, as a married couple, to actually walk in the light?”—right?—“And not fool ourselves and call God a liar or make light of our sin and call God a liar—
Ryan: —“but actually walk and be transparent with each other/to live in transparent community with others.” It all comes from identity in Christ; because if you don’t have security in Christ, you’ll never be comfortable confessing sin to each other; nor will you be comfortable forgiving sin if you’re not secure in Christ.
Bob: Ultimately: “Fierce marriage is gospel-anchored marriage,”—
Bob: —that’s what you are saying. That’s the theme of the book—
Bob: —that you guys have written.
Ryan: We’re going to change the name now. [Laughter]
Bob: I like this name.
Ann: Me, too; I love it!
Bob: Even fierce Ann likes it. [Laughter]
We’ve got copies of the book, Fierce Marriage, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. The subtitle is Radically Pursuing Each Other in Light of Christ’s Relentless Love. Order your copy of Fierce Marriage by Ryan and Selena Frederick when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY—that’s 1-800-358-6329—800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Don’t forget—this week is your final opportunity to sign up to attend an upcoming FamilyLife®Weekend to Remember marriage getaway and save 50 percent off the regular registration fee. We’re making this offer available to FamilyLife Today listeners this week. If you register for one of our upcoming getaways this week, you save
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I hope you’ll join us back tomorrow when we’re going to talk about a radical reprioritization of a marriage and a family relationship—the time in Ryan and Selena Frederick’s life, where they had to say: “What are we here for? What is this all about? How does our schedule need to change? How do our priorities need to change if we’re really going to honor God in how we live as a couple?” We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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