Not that I had slept much, but waking up in the little classroom in the church that housed our missions team, I began to feel joy- bubbles surge through me. Surrounding me on their little air mattresses, my girlfriends on the team began to stir, and in each one’s face, a knowing grin began to dawn: We would have a wedding tonight, and I would be the bride.
Meeting those same girls a year earlier, when on their bunks at night, they would fantasize about their wedding one day, I had been the killjoy of their dreams. “Girls, get a life; don’t wait for a man to make you happy. Be happy now!”
And less than a week later, I was the one smitten so hard, I could neither sleep nor eat. Love sick. In a school that didn’t allow dating and in a heart that had never before loved a man like this, I was a mess. These same girls had talked me through every micro development of our relationship, from the first violent flutter in my stomach to this, my last morning single.
Twenty five years ago today.
None of us knew what we were talking about, as we lay there between toddler sized furniture, planning a wedding with carrot sticks and carrot cake in the classroom across the hall. The sweet simplicity of the wedding itself is still one of my fondest memories, but the complexity of marriage would prove to be an acquired taste.
We had no idea how broken we both were.
We had no idea how little we could fix or change the other; and that morning, we had no idea we would even want to.
I was naive and impetuous, and he was jaded and afraid of the commitment we both knew was for life.
We were the least likely to survive it, let alone thrive.
Twenty five years later, I reflect on why and how we arrive at this day, more than ever confident in the endurance of love and the validity of the covenant of marriage.
1. We haven’t done it alone.
Both of us, from the first realization that our interest was serious, invited accountability all the way into our most private thoughts and fears.
Through the most excruciating seasons where we felt desperately trapped with each other, more caged than committed, mature mentors with our best interest at heart, helped us move from our loud personal pain to compassion for the other.
When external pressures like a church split, business collapse, deaths, and more life than we could handle in our toddler caused sleepless nights and anxiety attacks, we could have been ripped apart – but these guides helped us to fuse together instead.
2. They haven’t done it alone.
None of our priceless friends counseled from their own wisdom. Had they merely loved us, they could have chosen sides between us, and trust me, there were times when human wisdom would have told him to run from this crazy, wild woman.
But godly wisdom broke our shells of self-preservation and insisted on death – the laying down of our lives for each other, and these friends reminded us of the highest love, rather than the easiest path. They still do. They draw from the well of eternity, so they water us with effervescent Life, not temporal relief.
3. I haven’t done it alone.
From the collective we, both with each other and our life friends, to the very personal I, this is the deepest source of love and endurance. Very early in our marriage, Robert made the wisest statement, probably the determining two sentences for us:
“Get me off your pedestal. I can’t be your God.”
Uttered in frustration over my expectation that he be emotionally present with me when he was physically near, it nonetheless set us both free.
The only Source for our soul’s deepest need has always been and will only be God Himself. Robert’s exasperation reminded me that, before we ever met, we were each satisfied in God. Jesus had not only changed our lives, but He had saturated them with meaning and purpose and calling, and His was the Spirit that caressed and comforted us in the most intimate corners of our hearts.
From that secure place, we learned to listen to each other without taking offense. Even when it hurt. Even when it shattered our image of ourselves. We have worked hard at understanding, rather than seeking to be understood, and in the process, many lofty ideals have given way to much more substantial realities.
Robert is not who I once wished he would be. I can’t tame him. And I am certainly not what he expected from a wife. But much sweeter, we have learned to discover and appreciate who each other actually is and is becoming, and so living with the real person, not the image in our head. Always a work in progress. Always a poema, a masterpiece in the hands of God. Always needing and therefore tasting deeper Grace.
4. We are not our own
Many have asked me about the sacrifices involved with being this urban visionary pastor’s wife. And truly, most of our life together never resembled anything like what we read in family books that it ought to be. At some point, I realized that every time I read about what a husband and father “should” do or be to measure up to the ideal, the fruit in me was discontentment, because we would never ever get to that point.
So I cut it out.
Rather than the privileged idealism of the west, I began feeding my expectations with stories from the front lines of our faith. Persecuted colleagues, who didn’t agonize over whether their husband met their emotional needs, but whether or not he was still alive. Whether or not he would stand firm under torture. Whether or not he gave his all for The Savor who gave His all for us.
And that made all the difference.
In that light, the deep integrity of my husband far outshines any superficial shortcomings. In that light, my burden has always been light, and I only yearn to be found worthy of my calling.
Yes, I still wrestle to surrender and subdue my fears and hopes to the only Faithful One, not because He hasn’t earned it, not because my man hasn’t earned it, but because I am still a scared little bird sometimes. And I accept that.
I woke up this morning, twenty five years after “I Do”, deeply grateful. The measures of sacrifice and satisfaction are irrelevant.
Marriage so far has neither been a dream nor a nightmare, but an exploration of the most real Love ever. As Robert said to me a few years ago, on another anniversary; “I would do it again.”
In the arms of my man, I have felt the deepest intimacy humanly possible, and in his eyes I have received the deepest forgiveness I have ever needed. He has been to me the experience of Jesus, both in his limitations drawing me to HIS sufficiency, and in his generosity, giving me a foretaste of what’s coming.
“This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32)
“And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:17)