Last week, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. We were married on May 23rd, 1987 and the picture above left was taken on our honeymoon in Ixtapa, Mexico. My husband had just graduated from law school and I was one semester shy of graduating from the University of Texas (ahem, the 5 year plan). Never could we have imagined on that day how much life we would pack into the 25 years to follow. We were just a couple of kids. And trust me when I say, we didn’t have a clue about how to make a marriage work. Not. A. Clue. Oh sure, we read a few Christian books on marriage during our engagement and even attended a weekend marriage retreat, but nothing could prepare us for the real deal.
It would be easy for me to toss up a picture on my blog celebrating 25 years of marriage and leave you with the same false impression I myself had as a young honeymooner in the picture above: This marriage stuff is a piece of cake. As long as you love Jesus and each other, you’re good to go for the long haul. Yeah, right! While there may be some truth in that simplistic bit of wisdom, it doesn’t tell the behind-the-scenes story most married couples discover the hard way after saying “I do:” Marriage is stinkin’ HARD, even if you love Jesus and each other. And it gets even harder when children arrive on the scene. Which for us, just so happened to be exactly 13 months after my husband and I exchanged our vows in 1987. We spent our one year anniversary at Lamaze class. Our next two children followed close behind. I don’t have to tell you what happened next. The marriage took a back burner in order to tend to the immediate and exhausting demands of parenting. It’s wasn’t a conscious decision. It just happened.
By our eight year anniversary, we found ourselves sitting in a counselor’s office with our marriage on life support. Aside from loving Jesus, you cannot imagine two more opposite people. Keith’s a planner. I fly by the seat of my pants. Keith is a science and math guy (engineering undergrad). I hyperventilate at the mere sight of mathematical equations and Excel charts. Keith is a problem solver. I’m a creative artist. Keith is a realist. I am a dreamer. Keith is an implementer. I’m a visionary. Keith likes structure and order. I prefer organized chaos. Keith prepares in advance. I wait until the last possible minute. Keith makes lists for everything. The one time I made a list, I lost it. Our personalities, spending habits, family backgrounds — you fill in the blank, we had very little in common when we met.
As difficult as it was to sort through our differences at the eight year mark (a thank-you shout out to Dr. David Ferguson), I cannot imagine where we’d be today had we not made a conscious decision to fight for our marriage. We gained valuable tools that helped us understand each other better. We learned how to express our frustrations and feelings, rather than suppress them and allow bitterness to take root. Essentially, we learned how to fight fair. Even with the tools, we still drifted apart from time to time, over the years. The longer I’m married, the more I understand how marriage resembles the covenant God made with us when He sent His son to die for us. We drift. In spite of our lukewarm devotion, He keeps on loving us. Reminded of God’s unfailing love, we step up our devotion and give it another go. And so the pattern continues. In the process, we learn about commitment. True commitment. The kind of commitment we are supposed to have in our marriages. Which is why it takes two fighters to make a marriage work.
Keith and I celebrated our 25th anniversary in Jamaica last week and it could not have come at a better time. Our anniversary trip arrived on the heels of marrying off our two older children, becoming grandparents for the first time, and launching our youngest child out of the nest and into college. This is where many couples find themselves suddenly faced with the stone cold reality that they have no idea how to be a couple apart from being parents. With the kids gone, many marriages dissolve at this mile marker in the road. Yet others, stick it out in unhappy marriages with spouses that have become more like roommates than lovers. Which is why the fight continues. I want to have a marriage that not only survives, but thrives.
While having dinner on our last night in Jamaica, my husband and I found ourselves reflecting back on our honeymoon 25 years prior and laughing about the naivety of the young couple in the picture above who thought loving Jesus was enough to make a marriage work. We spoke candidly about some of the hurdles we had faced early on in our marriage and then began to talk about the state of our marriage today. No doubt, we have been in an adjustment period as we’ve transitioned into the empty nest years. I confessed over dinner (through a few tears) that I’ve been a much better mother than a wife. Keith, not surprisingly, reassured me that wasn’t the case. But, it’s true. There is no doubt that juggling marriage, motherhood and ministry has often resulted in my husband getting the short end of the stick. Had it not been for my husband taking the initiative over the years to implement a weekly date night and schedule weekend get-aways and vacations, I fear we could have arrived at the 25 year mark as virtual strangers. In doing so, he was fighting for the future of our marriage, even from the back-burner.
We stand at a precipice of sorts in our marriage. With the kids grown and raised, we have more time to devote to each other. More time to discover common interests. More time to devote to serving in ministry together, if God so leads. And more time to fall in love all over again. I cannot imagine my life today had I not said “I do” to my very best friend on May 23, 1987. As different as we are, we recognize that we need each other. Keith’s strengths make up for my weaknesses. My strengths make up for Keith’s weaknesses. God knew exactly what He was doing when He put us together. Keith often refers to our marriage as “the great adventure.” I wouldn’t change a single detail of this adventure, including the bumps in the road. We are who we are today, because of the detours and bumps along the way. I’ll gladly fight for another 25 years with this man. The great adventure continues…