I married a man who owned a Kitchen Aid mixer. Cobalt blue. I think it’s pretty safe to say he was the only guy in his fraternity at Baylor who had one, although his buddies eagerly ate all the delicious things he regularly whipped up for them: batches of his Gran’s pound cake, from-scratch Southwestern egg rolls, and his original recipe for “yummy cookies” (which are basically the best chocolate chip cookies ever, using a secret ingredient you’d never expect).

When I first met my future husband, Steven, in 2004 at a conference for college students in Branson, Missouri, of all places (a funny story for another time), I thought those fancy mixers were owned only by celebrity chefs on The Food Network. Practically my entire diet consisted of things I could cook on the George Foreman Grill or in the microwave.

As much as my culinary palate was about to expand, I had no idea how much more of an adventure I was embarking on when I fell for this Korean-American guy with the brilliant smile and larger-than-life personality.

I soon found myself with all my worldly belongings stuffed into a Ryder truck, driving my Volkswagen Beetle from where I lived in Nashville, Tennessee towards Dallas, Texas to start our new life together. We married in July 2005 in a small outdoor ceremony in our friend’s backyard by a little creek.

During a torrential downpour, our 50 close friends and family huddled around us holding umbrellas as we spoke our vows boldly above the sound of the beating rain. As soon as we were pronounced husband and wife, the rain stopped, and on the way to the reception, a huge rainbow arched across the sky. Since then, our life together has been anything but safe and ordinary and every bit a wild, crazy journey.

The story I have to share is not one of an idyllic, perfect marriage. Rather, it’s the story of a marriage that’s been hard-won through prayer, lots of struggle, trial-and-error, and very wise advice from those further down the path.

In our 14 years together, we’ve been through “better”—the gift of two daughters, two humble homes we’ve loved, business successes, supportive family, a tight community of friends.

And we’ve been through “worse”—growing apart, losing all our money, business failures, crippling anxiety, broken relationships, and lost friendships. Through it all, there are two practices that continue to bring freedom and connection to our marriage:

  1. We strive to always be a team.
  2. We celebrate and respect our separateness within the team.

To borrow a phrase from our beloved marriage counselor, Doc, the one who declared us husband and wife that day in the pouring rain:

“And the two shall become one, separately.”

I truly believe marriage was meant to make us “one.” From the beginning, Steven and I have chosen to see that oneness, that togetherness, through the lens of a team mentality. The team is only as strong as its individual members. Great teams have opposites that balance the team.

So, part of what makes our marriage work is that there’s space for each of us to be as God uniquely created us, and we fight for each other to be the best version of that. This makes the team stronger.

Here’s a great analogy Doc taught us: A healthy marriage is like you’re both hula hooping. Maybe you’re side-by-side, and your hoops might even touch or overlap sometimes. But you can’t take the other person’s hoop or get inside their hoop; it just won’t work. You have to stay in your own hoop.

The hula hoops are our individual journeys. Learning to celebrate that separateness without trying to change the other person has taken time and understanding. The Enneagram has helped greatly.

As an 8w7 (“The Maverick”—couldn’t be more fitting), Steven will always be an entrepreneur at heart who’s extremely driven, fast-paced, optimistic, and autonomous, living life full-tilt.

As an enneagram 9w1 (“The Dreamer”), I’ll always be the calmer, slower-paced, more grounded force, considering the details and others’ perspectives, ultimately wanting harmony in our marriage and home.

He wants progress; I want peace. He wants to put his foot on the gas; I want to put on the brakes. But because we’ve committed to staying together, sometimes he needs to slow down and wait for me, and sometimes I just need to trust him, jump in the car, and hold on for dear life…like when we started our first business together, a few years into our marriage.

First, we founded a holistic training studio, and out of that business grew Urban Acres, a city-wide organic produce co-op, urban farm, and organic market in Dallas that we sold in 2015 when we moved to Tennessee to start Kindred Farm (you can hear the whole story here, in Episode #140).

Now, we host outdoor farm dinners under the stars every year on our land, I’m a freelance writer and homeschool mom, and all that time perfecting recipes with the cobalt blue Kitchen Aid back in college paid off, because Steven is also a private chef in homes all over the Nashville area.

People often ask how we’ve been able to handle working together in addition to the challenges marriage brings. But the practices that help us work together successfully are the same ones that bring freedom to our marriage—we strive to be a team, and we celebrate and respect our separateness within the team.

Credit: Jeremy Cowart

We’ve definitely lost it at times, and we’ve suffered for it. In the fledgling days of launching our business in Dallas, I had to pull extra weight at home with a newborn while Steven worked long hours, driving the produce delivery truck and managing our retail store.

There were even days when I had to strap that newborn baby girl to my chest and run the register myself or illustrate chalkboard signs with her fuzzy little head bobbing under my chin. With all the stresses and very little time to just be together, some cracks began to show in the foundation of our marriage. I lost my “self” for awhile there, and we had to do repair work to recover and get back on track.

Owning a farm has taken the need for a team mentality to the next level, because we literally couldn’t survive without it. I’ve had to buck up and do things I don’t love, like (wo)manhandle squawking chickens, shovel gravel, or herd runaway pigs, for the sake of the overall vision of what we’re building here. (And get my butt out of bed way too many early mornings to count, because ya know, the couple that harvests kale at 5:30 a.m. together, stays together.)

But if all I did was messy farm work, I’d go insane. He makes sacrifices so I can still have creative outlets like writing and the freedom to add touches of beauty to our home and farm.

Last October, we stood before a long table of 100 people to welcome them to the first dinner on our land, just six months after plowing the soil. As they took bites of salad from lettuce I had harvested hours before and the Bolognese sauce Steven made from the pastured pork we raised, I was struck by how far we’ve come since those early days in Dallas. And as we’re just now entering our 40s, there’s so much more life ahead.

A few months ago, Steven and I got to have our first overnight trip together since having kids. We drove 30 minutes away from our house and then down the long, winding road to the cabin some friends graciously let us borrow for the night.

We brought our own groceries with us—our favorite Bonterra Organic Cabernet and all the makings of the perfect charcuterie and cheese board with triple-cream brie, salty, crispy crackers, and Sicilian olives. The next morning, we drank creamy hot coffee in contented silence and walked through the forest searching for wild mushrooms. Having so many hours together, undistracted, seemed luxurious.

Right before we left the cabin that day to head back home to our girls and farm life, I took this photo of him while we were leaving for a walk, and I think it symbolizes our marriage so well: him standing strong, a little ways ahead of me, waiting patiently, not dragging me on. My view: walking a little more slowly down the road, needing a bit of quiet encouragement to get there, and knowing he’ll be there to take my hand once I do.

p.s. Listen to the podcast episode about this post.