We met by circumstance some thirteen years ago. He was the guest preacher at the church where I was interning. The pastor had an eye infection and I was her driver. We picked him up from the airport and as soon as he got into my car, before I even saw his face, I heard the Spirit say, “This is the husband I have prepared for you.” Certain that it was just my loneliness speaking I immediately rebuked the thought—and it didn’t take long for me to decide that I for sure had not heard the Spirit at all. This man was everything I said I did not want in a husband: he was a preacher, divorced and had a child.
We spent the evening together walking and talking. The next day he preached and then we returned him to the airport. A few weeks later I received a card from him--the beginning of a regular letter exchange between us. I was caught by surprise one day when he called my home asking if he could come and visit.
A month later we were officially dating, engaged six months later and married within another five months. We promised each other that divorce would never be an option: every problem has a solution and we would always work toward a solution.
Isaiah 43:2 was read at our wedding, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fires, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” This scripture has proved itself prophetic.
Marriage was hard from day one. For years we struggled with the stresses of learning how to live together as a blended family. There were times when I just didn’t think we would make it, times when I didn’t care if we made it and times when I planned my great escape. And then I would hear the Spirit's gentle reminder, “this is the husband I gave you—I am with you.”
About seven years into our marriage I realized that I felt as if I wouldn’t be able to breathe without this man in my world. I was grateful for this marriage, grateful we stuck it out and so, so grateful God was with us when we walked through rivers of difficulty.
As we celebrate our twelve-year anniversary this weekend I reflect on our life together. Generally speaking, we have peace and should be at the “perfect” place in our life together. However, recently we have grown restless. I hear this happens when the nest empties—the focus that was once on family matters is shifted to personal identity and the relationship as a whole.
This new place surprised and startled me--I thought we were finished with rivers of difficulty. Turns out the scripture talks about both the river of difficulty and fires. Hmph.
We’ve had some hard conversations about our expectations for marriage, ourselves and each other; our changing needs, desires, and needs-vs-desires; our future and our evolving sense of God’s purpose for our lives.
Lamenting to a brother-friend he said something very profound: “Stephen loves you as best he is able to love you.” Now that is truth I could recognize.
He went on to encourage me that our spouses aren’t always able to love us in ways that we need but we have to accept the best that they have—challenging each other to grow is fine, but until the growth happens we have to accept the best they have to give.
(please note that there is no abuse in this relationship—if there was abuse we would not accept that sense of “best”)
My friend’s words caused me to think about how God loves me and accepts the best I have to give in return. Certainly I fall short of God’s expectations, but for God’s own reasons He just keeps blessing me with favor. What an amazing gift! God regularly challenges me to raise my level of excellence, to heal and to be more of my authentic self. God doesn’t ditch me when I fall short and for that I am extremely grateful.
As we launch into our thirteenth year of marriage our hearts wonder, “Will we make it?” My magic 8 ball said, “Signs point to yes.” While the magic 8 ball is rarely wrong, my greater sense of confidence comes from something else my friend had to say, “You have options—you don’t have to be married, but you can be if you choose to be.”
I choose to be—after twelve years I still do, by the grace of God. We still do, by the grace of God.
This anniversary we are aware that we are married by choice—a choice we make every day, by the grace of God.
This anniversary I better understand that accepting someone’s best is not acquiescing, it’s giving the gift of grace—exactly what God gives to us.
This anniversary I choose to love and be loved, to accept the best my husband has to offer and to give the best I have to give, to challenge growth and be challenged to grow.
This anniversary will not be spent celebrating some naïve notion of marriage: we will not exchange material gifts which distract from the fire and we will not take a vacation to temporarily avoid the fire (we tried that in troubled waters, didn't work, waters were still there!).
No, this year we will be home having regular life--Sunday dinner and our traditional tree lighting ceremony with the kiddos.
We will spend this anniversary in cautious optimism that we will make it through this season of fire, shielded by the promise of God, "I will be with you...it shall not consume you."
This anniversary the gift we give to each other is a new-found respect for the fragility of marriage and appreciation of the power of choice.
We share these intimate moments with you believing that our story is God's story of love, grace, victory, restoration, peace....
It is our prayer that our stories will inspire hope for your life place--afterall, our God is your God!
May God bless you and keep you.
Life is a journey--enjoy it!