People still marvel when my husband tells them he’s been married 17 years this month. To the same woman. They laugh and figure he must have married when he was about 12. It’s true. That’s how young he looks. No one really questions when I say the same thing. Perhaps that has a little to do with the half dozen babies I’ve carried and delivered, possibly. They laugh again when he takes responsibility for those 6 children. Yes. “All with the same woman” he answers with a smile.
Deliriously stricken with what we thought love was when we were 15 years old in our junior year of high school, we talked on telephones with cords late into the night and spent our weekends going line dancing with friends. There were school dances and trips to the mountains for day skiing. There was girl drama and a hundred other things that felt like the biggest deal ever. My grandma smiled when I told her we’d stay together after we graduated high school. Politely not saying what everyone was thinking, “Sure, easy to say, highly unlikely”.
Our choosing two different universities gave way to writing the letters. Not emails or texts. No electronic anything. Bonafide love letters. Our very own paper trail of love those letters are. The anticipation and patience involved when word from the one your heart longs for is hours away and requires getting through border patrol to put eyes on. Not for the faint of heart. They sit by my bed in a stack wrapped in a ribbon. Their very presence dates me. Ages me. Puts me in the “pushing 40 years old” crowd.
Months turned into years and our long distance perseverance continued. We became adept at waiting. Waiting for the border open. Waiting for the letter to come through the university post. Waiting at the dorm phone for a scheduled phone call. Waiting for direction for post-college plans. Waiting for summer when we would be home with parents and only 20 minutes drive from each other. Waiting for an engagement ring. Which turned into waiting for a wedding. Which meant more waiting. Waiting to go to bed together and wake up in the same place. I won’t ever forget waking up the day after our wedding and holding my ring-clad hand up in disbelief that yes, I was finally paired for life with this one I loved. It was surreal.
Our paper trail turned into post-its at this point. Notes written and stuck on the bathroom mirror. I still have the sticky stack. Short notes of love that cemented our gratitude that we were done waiting for each other. We settled into married housing our last year of college and walked graduation together the following year. Youth pastor and social worker finding our (very young) way.
This morning I wrote a bridal shower gift card to a young thing preparing for her own summer wedding. I simply said “sending love and blessings your way as you prepare for your marriage (the wedding is the easy part, don’t stress about that!)”. At barely 21, I certainly thought otherwise! I was sure the wedding was the hard part. Our big wedding with two receptions, which I planned without a wedding coordinator while keeping a $5,000 wedding budget, was attended by 428 people. It felt huge. Larger than life. I hadn’t given a great deal of thought about the life that would come after. Sure we did premarital counseling and personality tests and all. Good stuff. But nothing prepares any love struck sweetheart for the reality of marriage.
But love letters wane. Post it notes get unsticky. He doesn’t bake caramel brownies from scratch filled with love notes on foil anymore. She doesn’t spend an hour on hair and makeup every single day. He doesn’t know how to respond to her insecure 21 year old self. And she doesn’t know how to cook after all. Real life happens. And real life is darn hard sometimes….most of the time. Wedded bliss becomes a ruse and the sparkly ring gets dirty and scratched up. So do the wedded ones. No matter how good in heart or how sweet their intentions.
This is where the fire burns hot and hard choices are made. This is where listening to the prevailing wisdom of the culture we live in (even church culture) says loudly “Marriage is meant to make you happy – if you aren’t happy, you can walk away!”. Choosing to keep love in the midst of real, broken life comes hard fought, comes at a price. Two sweet lovebirds change and grow up. Inevitably, they don’t grow on the same timeline. This proves incredibly hard to navigate.
Choosing love in the midst of the mess, in the midst of the growing, in the midst of imperfection and failure….this is how we are forging our way forward. By saying yes to each other. Yes to love. Yes to the gut-wrenching conversations. Yes to humility. Yes to apologizing and subsequent forgiveness. Yes to awkward, soul-exposed moments . Yes to being a witness to the whole of life by someone’s side. Yes to the covenant promise of marriage. Not just when it makes sense or comes easy or “feels right”. Even, especially, when it doesn’t.
17 years and counting. Thankful every day (even the ones that lay me flat) for my yes all those years ago and every day since. Perhaps even, the best is yet to come…