I’ve been married for twenty years and two days. That’s 7,302 days. Yeah, I know your mooma and poopa just had their diamond anniversary in Maui, but this in my blog. Keep your wrinkled relatives out of it.
Here’s a little perspective: I was already married for a couple years when I signed up for a VHS Columbia House membership and quickly got my free copies of Face/Off, ConAir and The Rock, back when I couldn’t wait for the next Wesley Snipes movie to come out. We had a Mac Classic II, NetZero dial-up, no cell phone, a TV with three clear channels, wicker furniture and a cool bread machine.
I was 21 in 1995. Laurie was 18. She was my first legitimate girlfriend. First kiss. First everything.
In high school and college I was always looking for that girl. Movies inspired me. I watched how Holly Hunter and Richard Dreyfuss interacted in Always, and decided that my marriage would have the right balance of humor and passion. I watched the sarcasm and spontaneity of Dennis Quaid and Kathleen Turner in Undercover Blues, and knew that’s what I wanted. Basically I was looking for a super-hot adventurer that loved God and could roll with sarcasm.
Was that Laurie? I’m not sure. I just saw the super-hot part, knew she was a Christian, and figured we could work on the other stuff later.
Those first few dates were nerve-wracking and awkward, but after one crazy night in the foothills of Glendora and a direct confirmation from God, we started our ten-week engagement and put the rings on.
In the last weeks before the wedding, I remember looking at the people around me, thinking that they could just go be with their spouses at any time. My girl was six hours away. It felt like torture. Then, as soon as we got back from our honeymoon, I remember Laurie asking me to get some milk at the grocery store and feeling this surge of bliss. I could finally be alone!
I called my dad a couple weeks into marriage and confessed that it was harder than I thought. I told him that I wouldn’t mind going home for the weekend, just to take a break. He said, “John, you are home.”
Darn you, Dad.
Laurie was neither Holly Hunter nor Kathleen Turner. She was rarely casual or comfortable. She felt all sorts of pressure to be the perfect wife, while I felt all kinds of pressure to flex, fixing things around the apartment, and helping out with the chores. I tried to remember to compliment her, which was really hard for a cagey introvert like me. She didn’t quite understand my style of humor. And I was learning pretty quickly what an arrogant (unsavory noun of your choice) I was.
Our first year was tough on multiple levels. I was trying to cram two years of college into one, while Laurie worked at a coffee shop. She went to bed soon after I’d get home from school, and she’d be out the door before I woke up. Even when we were able to spend time together, there was a lot of stress.
Then something interesting happened. God made it obvious that it was time for Laurie to take an important step in an area of weakness, and the ring on my finger dragged me right in. Our private struggles were no longer private, her challenges were my challenges, her victories were my victories, and vice versa. It was an interesting step toward two becoming one.
Then we took another important step. After another year of barely getting by in Los Angeles, we decided to scrap everything and go to a Bible School in England. We didn’t have kids. We didn’t have a job. And we knew it would be a healthy step in our marriage.
When we came back, we felt like a family. We were world travelers. Survivors. We had a handful of miracle stories. And Laurie was pregnant.
The next twelve years were a lot more 9 to 5 than my movie-watching high school self would have wanted. Actually it was more like 7 to 7, with crying babies and financial crises and work stress and non-stop social activity. That was married life with a mortgage—the slog of reality, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. Not in a ball-and-chain sort of way, more like a crock pot, how the roast and carrots and potatoes slowly start to taste the same, and people notice the smell.
Then God clearly called us out of Los Angeles for seminary training in Mississippi. It was a good time for an adventure. We packed up the family, and headed across the country, eager for a new phase. The past four years have been the best four years. Sure we’ve never been so poor, and we’re not sure what’s next, but we are enjoying the moment. There is something healthy about not having backups, having to work together and reach for God, trusting his heart and his timing. Our family has never been happier.
Now, looking back on the past twenty years, I have a few thoughts on what it means to live day after day after day with the same person:
Infatuation is a mind-numbing euphoria that holds two people together long enough for the glue to dry. After that, either love kicks in, taking the relationship into something deeper and lasting, or dissatisfaction and disenchantment kicks in, forcing the partners to try to recapture those early feelings with sexy clothes, extravagant vacations and expensive gifts.
Are we trying to fool the only person we can’t fool? Are we buying each other off? Playing to social pressures on holidays? I don’t want to perform for Laurie. I want to trust and be trusted. I want to know and be known. Sure, it’s fun to treat each other and have fun together, but it better be authentic. I think we have that.
Laurie never wanted a diamond. She wanted a ring that was three rings intertwined—her, me and God. That says something. Even though she was an only child, she was never a princess, demanding gifts and attention. She doesn’t like to show off on Facebook, as if the world needs proof that we still love each other or know how to parent our children. She likes to keep it private. That’s why I’m blogging about it . . . (panic strikes)
Marriage can be a profound witness to the life and power of God. Not only does it invite two people into the intimate work of sanctification, but it also forces us to learn what love means. Marriage is not a give and take, it’s a give and give. Even when you don’t feel like it. I’m not very good at this, but I know it’s true. And I’ve gotten a little better over the years.
Marriage is an opportunity to practice setting yourself aside for someone else. That practice can really play off when it comes to working on friendships, raising children, and especially responding to the spiritual rehab program that we can never seem to graduate from.
I also have this crazy theory from some ancient book that suggests that an ideal husband and wife should somehow reflect Christ and the Church. True, the book is old, and the author couldn’t possibly know about sexuality being nothing more than a social construct, or how demeaning it is to compare males to God, and females to humanity. But in some archaic, outdated sense, I think it can be useful.
If Christ is the ideal husband, that means I need to love my wife even if it costs me everything. I need to be strong for her, encourage her, and lead her. On the inverse, Laurie can find security in me. She can take in my “life” and bear “fruit” for me. She can serve without feeling humiliated. As God said, the two will become one.
There is much more to say, but I’d rather hear from some of you. Each couple has its own dynamic, its own personality. What have you found that really works for you? How have you changed because of marriage? What have you learned? If you’re not married, what are you hoping for?