On a cool, spring morning, I stood in the alcove of my church. Palms sweating. Heart pounding. Hands shaking. I was about to walk down the aisle and get married. Struggling for a deep breath, I was very sure about who and why I was getting married, but it was the what I was crumbling under. What does our future look like? How many kids will we have? Will he always love me? I wish Mom were here.
Bruce and I first saw each other when I was 15 years old. He was 19. We didn’t meet that night, but I knew, from the bottom of my soul, I was going to marry him. Two years passed without him darkening the door of our church again. One day, he just showed up! It was exactly one month after my mom died. I was 16, almost 17. He was 20 and in the Air Force. My, oh my, how handsome he looked in uniform. We became instant friends. He tutored me in math (my worst subject ever!) and I graduated high school. On my 18th birthday, he took me to a wonderful dinner and a show, then he drove us to our favorite spot on the beach. In a stokin’ hot blazer and dress pants, sweating profusely in the summer humidity, he knelt on one knee in the sand and proposed.
He and I were just beginning to find our paths in life. I was a mess from my childhood unraveling like an old sweater – tragedy after crisis after tragedy – and he was completing his military service. We both knew our goal was to be college-bound, but that’s all we knew. No money. No help. Just the two of us and God.
I was 19 on my wedding day. He was 23. I mustered the courage, said a prayer under my breath, and walked the aisle to my awaiting groom. People at the wedding took bets on how long they thought it would last. I knew then what I still know now about the statistics for young marriages. Statistics for a shipwreck like myself. Statistics for not finishing college once married. Yes, I knew all that. But, God had this crazy plan that bucked the system. He told me I was no longer a statistic.
Twenty-two years later, we celebrated our anniversary with our kids’ soccer and football games, a delicious Italian meal and a show. Our three amazing kids also surprised us with breakfast in bed that morning with a pathetic, begging dog standing by – just waiting in hope for the “accidental drop” of scraps. Over the last few days, I’ve reflected on the past 2+ decades and have come to a few conclusions:
First, someone lost a bet. Our marriage is still rockin’ on. With God, all things are possible. I didn’t have to remain a victim, anymore than our marriage was destined to become one. A fresh start with God means a fresh start.
Also, after being married this long, I feel I can have some opinions on married life. I’m not 19 anymore, and Bruce and I have a whole lot of water under the bridge. Sometimes the water has been calm and clear. We could see straight through it to the treasures lying beneath the surface as we floated past. Other times, the water has moved more swiftly with life’s current. We’ve learned the value and benefit of remaining adaptable to the changing flow that can rock the boat. Still other times, our boat has capsized in the ominous, raging river. Life’s storms have been unpredictable, overwhelming and difficult enough to make us want to attempt to swim to shore. I’m so glad we hung onto the overturned boat and rode it out.
That’s the focus of my recent thoughts. I’ve been married to Bruce longer than my entire life before him. We joke that we finished growing up together. I love what someone once said, and if I could remember who it was I would quote them – you marry not one person, but many. Meaning, Bruce and I have changed a lot over the years. With those changes, we’ve had to adapt to a new normal…many times. But it’s been well worth it. Through frightening illness with the kids, car accidents, moving, injuries, surgeries, job loss, family deaths, and a myriad of things we’ve gone through together, we continue to reap the benefits of staying married – trust, comfort, and joy to name a few.
I look at Bruce today and know exactly what he’s thinking. He can say the same about me. I know so much about him, but because he is constantly changing, as I am as well, life is never boring. He told me just the other day that he no longer prefers his beloved hazelnut coffee creamer (shocker!). He also told me his entire vision of what He believes God has for our family is shifting. Whoa. Okay. I am so glad that we haven’t give up on God – who promises to help us – nor on each other, because I like who Bruce is today and I like our marriage. Whether things are smooth sailing or we are working hard to patch a leak in the boat, we’ve got each other to travel this crazy river of life.
There is no promise for a problem-free life, but God offers immeasurable joy when He is the captain of the boat. Keep rowing. Keep investing in each other. If the boat tips over, hang on and ride out the storm. Then climb back into the boat.
Paul said it best in Philippians 4:12-13, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.”
This sounds familiar. Oh yes, Bruce and I took an oath under God when we got married – for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, to love and to cherish ’till death due us part. I am content, not because Bruce or I know how to beat the odds on our own, but because we have discovered that the power of Christ in our marriage can weather the storms and show us that marriage, indeed, is a beautiful journey when we stay in the boat and enjoy the ride together.
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