7,302 Days

good one

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?

10 thoughts on “7,302 Days

  1. My marriage, I am truly happy to say, has always been a point of joy in my life. Since we got married we’ve grown closer, more intimate and more mature together. But, it was not always good in our relationship. For us, during dating, we had lots of fights, insecurities, doubts and other things came up constantly in the first year or two. If the Lord hadn’t guided me through it, I know it would not have worked. He was like a father to both of us through it. There was even one point where we first held hands and I remember feeling the Lord’s conviction pressing into my skull that next morning. I asked him why and he reminded me of the hand holding and said, very clearly, “you didn’t ask My permission.”

    It was a defining moment in my both my walk with God and our relationship. From then on, it was as if I was “cheating” God was there guiding me through the minefield of past hurts, mistakes, relationships, wounds and other things so that we could build a true, trust filled relationship. It allowed us to know each other for all that we are. And let’s face it, we both have lots of ugly, but the beauty of living as my true self with no fear of judgment is what Christ desires for both of us. In Him and to our selves.

    For me it’s easy to see why Paul relates our relationship with Christ to marriage. There’s learning involved in both. You have to die in marriage and die for Christ. You have to get used to denying yourself. The husband gives everything for the wife as Christ did for the church. The wife loves the husband and submits as the church does to Christ. And that doesn’t mean dominance as I thought it did as a single man. And I don’t have the pressure of being a perfect priest either. I need only look at what Christ says about me in relationship to him to know how to treat my wife. He empowers me to do all things through Him. He works with me to accomplish the purposes of the Kingdom. I submit to him in love, knowing he is for me and loves me more than I ever could. So it should be in our marriage.

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    • Thanks, Scott. I think my first couple of years of marriage were the same as your first couple of years of dating. I had never had a girlfriend, so I didn’t know the first thing about living with a woman, or how to treat a woman, or what to do with conflict. It took a while, but things did improve.

      I think you’re right about how single people can easily misunderstand the biblical portrayal of marriage. If it doesn’t look like absolute equality—50/50—it seems demeaning, or worse. But Christ’s model is 100/100. He gave everything for us, and we give everything back. If couples did the same, the divorce numbers would drop significantly. Selfishness kills marriage. There’s no way around it. And the biblical model doesn’t not include selfishness. It’s all about love. But someone has to lead, and God says that he made men for that role. But that doesn’t mean the woman is weak or can’t contribute or can’t have a say. Absolutely not. It’s just that a two-headed family is easy to divide, and can be a toxic place to live.

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  2. My beliefs were vague when we married. The Jonestown tragedy had me wondering how religion could go so wrong. By the time we had children, it all came together. Marriage is more than just man and wife. It was not good that the man was alone, so God made woman using a bit of man to make the point that she would always be a part of him. God did not make another man to solve the being alone problem. As man and woman, children are part of them both. This is something that same-sex marriage misses.

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    • That’s an interesting point. Love resulting in new life.

      Being fruitful and multiplying is more than just filling the earth with humans, it’s expressing the desire of God to be intimate with us, and produce “fruit” in us that can bear witness to the reality of God and nourish others. Marriage is the only institution that pre-dates the Fall. And it illustrates what it means for God and man to be “one.” Sadly, although God hates divorce, Jesus said he allowed it because fallen man struggles so much with love. We are selfish. We abuse. We take. But that doesn’t mean marriages are doomed. We have an instinct for doing it right as long as we can deny ourselves, be patient and gentle, and let the analogy play out.

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  3. Very well written and insightful. Remembering the three days we spent discussing marriage just before your wedding makes me think that you might have gained a lot more insight than I was able to relay and that you will be able to share with your kids when they make the same decisions. It is interesting to note that Lucas is only about two years younger than Laurie when you got married and you are just a few years younger than I was when we made that trip. My parents never seemed to struggle and so I married thinking things would be easy and I am sure it seemed the same to you because your mother and I always seemed to be doing well, and we were. Anyway, sure glad it all worked out and you can write such an encouraging piece on it.

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    • I remember when we talked through I Corinthians 13, and you showed me how, basically, love is selflessness. You told me that if Laurie and I were going to fight, we shouldn’t fight for ourselves. Because we’re joined, we can’t really win those fights without losing something in our connection. Instead, you said that we should fight for one another. That’s the good kind of fight. Anything else is destructive, both to the marriage and ourselves.

      That was good advice.

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  4. ( ( ((Resonating)) ) )
    I jumped off the merry-go-round at age 21, too, marrying the first girl I dated and the first girl I kissed – don’t tell either of them (kidding). This month, it’s our 18th! We have a rich relationship that’s been strengthened through heat; no one loves me or knows me like Ellen. And, yes, I learn about relationship with God through my marriage.

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    • Woah, I didn’t realize we had such a similar story. Congrats on 18! So back on the dig site while I was trying to talk about all these issues, and the ladies around us were arguing with me, and no one was backing me up on the analogy . . . were you just too distracted by the Iron 1 Period, or did you not want to step into my nightmare? 🙂

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      • There’s a time and a place for everything. I wasn’t going to jump into a sinking ship. My abstinence was on purely sociological survival grounds, not intellectual or theological. 😉

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