We chose each other.

Years ago, when we were young and naive and hopeful, when we thought we were busy because we were in university, when he drove an ’86 Monte Carlo and I wore frayed cut offs, when Friday nights were spent wandering the aisles of a Blockbuster to choose a movie, when we ate tacos at midnight without regret, when we tuned the car radio to the AM country station while cruising for a quiet backroad in the Oklahoma heat, when we laid on top of the hood of the car and watched the stars because we kissed with our eyes open.

We chose each other when we thought we understood ourselves and we thought we understood each other and we thought we understood our world and we thought we understood God.

(We understood nothing.)

Sometimes it didn’t feel like a choice: it felt meant to be. We were inevitable. He was always going to grow up in north Omaha; he was always going to feel called and special and heroic; he was always going to show up in Tulsa with the aura of leadership conferred by the trifecta of sports and academic scholarships and youth group intensity. I was always going to grow up between the prairies and the Rockies; I was always going to feel like a baffling mix of pragmatism and mysticism; I was always going to show up in Tulsa ready to become who I really had wanted to be all along. He was always going to catch sight of me at the school gym and elbow his friend because everyone else was in work out gear but I was in knee high black boots and a barely dress-code skirt; we were always going to meet in the cafeteria; we were always going to go out on a group date to a hockey game and a greasy burger joint and then find ourselves in a conversation to last for a lifetime; we were always going to fall in love.

But we chose each other. It wasn’t meant to be. We made choices every day of our lives and those choices led us to one another and then came this: we were a couple of over-serious teenagers who believed in marriage and true love and the plans of God. There was never any doubt in our hearts. We belonged together.

We truly believed we could change the world together. We believed we would always have that white flame of purpose and unity.

***

Those were sweet days of certainty. It’s a normal thing both developmentally and spiritually to see the world in simple terms. It’s a necessary stage and I won’t begrudge it or ridicule it or belittle it. It was beautiful while it was here and then it was gone. There were days when I wanted to go back, to go back to thinking in a black-and-white manner, to see myself as the hero.

We went into full time vocational ministry.

And then we burned out of ministry.

We fully intended to return to ministry sometime.

And then for a long time we didn’t.

***

We didn’t return to ministry at first because I couldn’t. I couldn’t return to that world anymore. I was exhausted and cynical, broken hearted and wondering. I didn’t know what I believed about any of it – God, the Church, the local church, scripture, any of it. He was still pretty okay, most of the time.

I tacked hard to the left: progressivism, anti-institutionalism, question-everything-ism. I couldn’t seem to enter the doors of a church without what felt suspiciously like an attack of PTSD. He went to seminary and tacked hard to the right: authority, hierarchy, answers. He still wanted to be a pastor.

Opportunities came up. Every time I tried for him. Oh, God, I tried, I tried to be supportive, I tried to encourage a yes, I went to the interviews and said all the right pastor-wife-answers. Yet I felt like a liability, like a weight, like a burden. I tried to get on board, tried to choose Ministry for him.

But he knew. He knew my heart wasn’t there and I was drowning in the trying.

***

We didn’t marry ministry, we married each other. And when it came time to choose between the life we thought we wanted, the life we thought we were destined for, the life we were taught to sacrifice everything to ensure: we chose us instead.

He didn’t need me to choose ministry: he needed me to choose him as much as I needed him to choose me instead.

It felt scandalous at first and then it felt like freedom. But first it was scary and difficult and disorienting.

This is just one instance, this is the one we have chosen to be public with over the years. There have been many others, a give-and-take, a you-first. Like every marriage, our opportunities to practice selflessness never seem to cease. What a …. blessing.

***

There is often A Thing to deal with in your marriage, at least that’s been my experience. A Thing like a job decision or a ministry opportunity or a church disaster or an argument or issues with children or loss or grief or pain or All The Other Things. Life usually involves a fair bit of crisis management.

All the Other Things deserved our unity, our embrace, our love.

Isn’t love stronger? Isn’t God big enough to enfold us all?

***

Our life today, years later, looks so different than we expected.

We are in ministry again: just not how we expected, now it feels like a partnership. I moved towards him and he moved towards me. We are still in disagreement about some important things: that used to bother us but now we think it keeps things interesting. We love Jesus, we follow closely in step with one another, we love our children, we love our town, we love our church, we love our friends. It’s not perfect, it’s utterly ordinary.

It doesn’t seem so fraught now. Perhaps that’s the gift of growing up. It used to be that every decision was between Heaven and Hell, obedience or disobedience, heroism or failure. We’ve mellowed a bit, relaxed a lot, released our death grip on our expectations, opened up our view of God and life and love. As John wrote, love has the run of the house.

It’s just ….. who could have guessed that there were so many rooms?

This has been quite helpful.

I wonder if we would be doing the work we do now as a family if we hadn’t chosen each other instead of our hero complex or our cherished outcomes or our beliefs.

We probably would have done fine. A lot of people do fine. I think we could have had a good life, it’s not like there is only one way to walk, one way to happiness. Sometimes people fall out of step and maybe that’s for the best, too. You can’t make someone stay in step: sometimes the choice we make for each other is the choice to let go.

But because we chose each other relentlessly? we didn’t lose each other and have to find each other later: we wandered together and then we were found together.

***

Now it’s funny when people ask us sometimes, how do you weather major theological differences in your marriage?

I don’t know if we did it the right way. Is there even a right way?

I don’t know the right answer for every marriage but here is the answer that worked for us then and seems to still be working now: Choose each other.

Turn towards one another. Choose each other. Hang on. Stay in step.

The other things will fall into place eventually, life is long and you may return to those things – but we have learned also that sometimes life is (heartbreakingly) short and so either way you’ll be glad that you chose each other.

Love wins.

We did not marry ministry: we married each other.

We did not marry a certain town: we married each other.

We did not marry a vocation or a career: we married each other.

We did not marry a theological belief: we married each other.

We did not marry a political opinion: we married each other.

We didn’t do it perfectly. We still don’t do it perfectly. It’s more of a shuffling fumbling slow-dance, leaning into each other for each turn, unsure if you’re embracing or moving rather than a carefully choreographed performance for someone else’s judgement.

Not everyone understands – so what?

In that moment when it feels like you have to choose between each other and This Big (or Small) Thing you really want, choose each other. Serve each other. Put each other’s happiness first.

We still choose each other, over and over again with each new incarnation, new evolution, new opinion, we say you’re the one I want, you’re the one I choose. We’ll figure the other stuff out eventually but right now sit here with me and know that I pick you.

Some of those choices will be obvious to everyone, other choices will only ever be known between the two of you (those are my favourites).

***

Sometimes all we need to carry on is to know we were chosen.

***

The other night, we were sitting in our back garden. The tinies – who are no longer all that tiny to be honest – were shooting hoops at the side of the house. His garden is growing with each passing summer day, he’s mighty proud of the kale and the beans, the cilantro and spinach. We have a patch of earth we call our own, our children are healthy, the sheets on our bed are clean. The sun was setting and the breeze was making the trees dance. We sat together in lawn chairs while the baby wandered in the grass, listening to the ball pound on the cement and the backboard of the net thump with each attempt as the light turned to that soft tired gold. He held my hand and said, “You know what? I have everything I have ever wanted. I’m satisfied.” 

Contentment is a choice, I think. Life doesn’t look like how he expected, not really, but here we are fifteen years into this marriage, seventeen into loving each other. We don’t really want to change the world anymore: we want to love our world. We don’t think we understand much anymore but our eyes are open and our hands are helping. Still the opportunities come and go, and the differences arise and fade, and the invitation to leave each other behind in pursuit of something shiny or good or interesting arrives. But I still choose him, he still chooses me, and so it still feels meant to be. 

I write now and then about what love looks like for us. Here they are.

 

What I'm Into :: Summer 2016
The Resistance
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  • K Newman

    Oh, my. It’s like you read into my heart with this: “Yet I felt like a liability, like a weight, like a burden. I tried to get on board, tried to choose Ministry for him. But he knew. He knew my heart wasn’t there and I was drowning in the trying.” We’re not past this ourselves. He’s still in ministry; I’m still that burden. But you give me hope.

  • This was my favourite part:

    “We chose each other when we thought we understood ourselves and we thought we understood each other and we thought we understood our world and we thought we understood God.

    (We understood nothing.)”

    And this:

    “It felt scandalous at first and then it felt like freedom. But first it was scary and difficult and disorienting.”

    My husband I met at 18, got married at 20 and burned out of ministry at 27. We’re in the scary, difficult and disorienting part now. My heart understands.

    • Sounds familiar, Nina – prayers are with you. This isn’t the easy part but it can be good.

      • Thank you, sister. The hard days are still hard, but we’re creating a lovely new life together.

  • Thanks for writing these words, Sarah. They are particularly helpful for me today, and in a strange way, one of the best pieces of marriage advice. I think you could write a marriage memoir about “choosing you” and it would serve many.

    • Thank you, Devi – appreciate the encouragement! Maybe someday….

  • We’re only eight years in and I often still feel so green talking about issues of love and marriage. But I can confidently say issues of vocation and location and theology and politics and parenting… they don’t have to divide unless we let them. (We already know that from our short years together.) Your advice—”choose each other”—feels like the best, most genuine exortation one could speak into a marriage. Beautifully written and demonstrated. I hope this post and message will reach far and wide.

  • I don’t have a particular comment except to say thank you! Again, you’ve written words that say so eloquently what I probably couldn’t articulate…I love the place where – as you say – we mellow, relax, release that death grip, and open up our views…love has run of the house. Thank you for writing it!

  • pastordt

    I do believe you write about this better than anyone out there. Thank you. Fifty years in, many areas of disagreement and ‘iron sharpening iron,’ still choosing each other, despite it all, including prostate cancer. This one nails it, sweetheart. Nails it.

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  • Sarah your words on marriage are always felt in my gut, wrought with truth and hope. It is a choice isn’t it? Everyday to choose love and to choose contentment. It’s a subversive way of kicking comparison and discontent to the curb. Your words are always a gift in my life.

  • Tricia Wilson

    Almost 32 years in and this resonates so deeply. Sometime I have had to fight to be chosen and sometimes he has as well. Beautiful tribute to the real and truth of being married. Thank you.

  • Rea

    Life doesn’t look as we expected, but we still choose each other. That’s what I needed to remember today. We spent the weekend at a reunion and all weekend long I kept dealing with the question “So, what do YOU do?” or the assumption that of course my life must look like this certain thing. And I was feeling a little bruised and battered because I’m not the person my husband married. The CPA. The career woman. The main earner in the family. Instead I am this flighty, flaky person who dreams of writing, who just walked away from her very part-time job because it was breaking me spiritually, a person who doesn’t feel like much of anything at all right now because I’m not a paycheck, not a ‘contributor’ to society. But he chose me, didn’t he? He chose to say ‘yes’ to my dreams, to the heart of who I am, to seeing me whole and happy. And I choose him too, every bit of him.

  • Matthew Rigby

    Beautiful words. I love the quote “we don’t really want to change the world, we want to love our world”. Very subtle and important change of perspective!

    Oh, and hello, but the way! Excited to see all your great successes in writing from a distance!

  • One of my favorite things about the way you write is that you are among the few non-contentious voices. Though perhaps I disagree with you on some things, I never feel frustrated or angry or less-than after reading any of your pieces. I feel challenged. This article was a wonderful read – a powerful reminder. To press on and continue choosing him.

    I particularly loved this bit: “We still choose each other, over and over again with each new incarnation, new evolution, new opinion, we say you’re the one I want, you’re the one I choose. We’ll figure the other stuff out eventually but right now sit here with me and know that I pick you.” // I’m grateful to be in a marriage that holds this view, even in the uncertainty. Thank you for writing this.

  • Tonya Vander

    I am sending your post to my husband, I think it will encourage him. We have been married 25yrs, However, due to the accident and TBi, our marriage has been divided between the before and after the 20 yrs and the 5 yrs. In the last few years I have realized what a blessing it is to fall in love the “same” guy twice and different of marriage we now have. Coming out the Biblical Patriarchal Movement around the same time of the accident, we have struggled with in our faith. Three years ago we moved across country for my education, something that would not have happened 10 years ago. Now we have moved once again because of my grad school. He has willingly made those choices, although I have struggled with him doing so. We still do not know what our life or “ministry” will look like, as we are still rebuilding so much. So many views have changed in our life, I would say the pendulum hasn’t quite stopped yet. Your post gives me so much encouragement to know others who have walked similar paths. Making the choice to choose the one you love in all seasons is definitely an ongoing process. <3

  • Thank you for this beautiful message to my soil tonight.
    I’m still choosing him, even though I’m hanging hard left….

  • Gorgeous. I came to the realization the other day that growing up means that life isn’t easy. That now we have all the responsibility and we have to deal with it and it’s not really ever going to get any easier if we “grow up” more. But it can be okay, it doesn’t have to be stressful, it’s NOT the end of the world. It just is.
    I thought marriage and love would be easier than this. Going to weddings now I always want to warn the couple, “it won’t be easy!” and I should probably keep those thoughts to myself.
    But you’re so right. Choosing each other is the only way to keep going and make it work. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
    11 years for us at the end of this month. Last year this time I wasn’t sure we’d make it, but a year’s worth of counseling was totally worth the investment. 😉

  • Our Christian Book

    Hi Sarah,

    I enjoyed this blog post of your very much.

    It is so easy to forget the important thing in life. I like the fact that you share your experience in a very honest way.

    Marriage is something we need to take care of. It is not like something we can run on autopilot, we see the percentage of devores is very high in western world today, I think much of it comes from lack of communication between partners.

    God bless
    Edna Davidsen
    http://www.OurChristianBook.com

  • I’m getting married in August of this year and this is so encouraging to me. While Josh and I are similar in so many ways, we are also different in a lot of ways as well. I love this reminder that we are marrying each other not our jobs, church, etc. Putting each other after God but before everything else is so crucial. Thank you for this!

    http://www.littlelightonahill.com

  • “We did not marry ministry: we married each other.
    We did not marry a certain town: we married each other.
    We did not marry a vocation or a career: we married each other.
    We did not marry a theological belief: we married each other.
    We did not marry a political opinion: we married each other.”

    There it is so simple, so boiled down, so beautiful . . . thank you for sharing.

  • Mary Overby

    http://thisibelieve.org/essay/6743/

    This is an essay one of my professors wrote. I think it resonates well with this post.

  • Gosh, this is such an apt description of marriage. I’m only three years in, and already I look back at our dating and our wedding day and think, “We understood nothing.” I have a feeling we’ll look back ten years from now and say the same thing, and continue doing so until we’re 87 and realize we still understand nothing but how to keep choosing each other. Thanks for this beautiful and honest piece.

  • Can I shout a HALLELUJAH?! (Sorry. I just did.)

    This is the key to marriage, really. Conflict is inevitable. Change is good. The person you choose at 20 or 23 or 28 will NOT be the same person when you are 40 and 43 and 48. So in that sense, choose wisely – but know that you will have to continue to choose that person as they are recreated again and and again and again.

    (The description of you and Brian sitting in the evening sun and feeling content made me sigh with delight. Because this is the hidden gift of middle marriage. There is a deep satisfaction that is richer than all the butterflies of those early years.)

  • Katie Noah Gibson

    Love this so much. We are eight years into marriage, nearly 13 into loving each other. And we are learning, also, to choose each other again and again.

  • Mia

    Oof, I feel like you’ve read many minds on this one.

    We are five years and one child in, and neither of us in full time ministry, but I’m definitely experiencing the PTSD-feels about church. It sucks. I have no eloquent way to say it.

    This is encouragement to keep on. Thank you, Sarah.

  • July 28 marks 25 years of marriage for my husband and me. You said it so well, Sarah, “we chose each other.” We certainly have had our shares of ups and downs, heartbreaks and joys, trials and triumphs, but at the end of the day I said, “until death does us part,” and I meant it.

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  • Seno Niilonga Namwandi

    I read this as a girl getting ready for marriage and it gave me such a new perspective on why people say marriage isn’t easy. At first that rhetoric started to depress me and made me question whether I should even consider marriage at all but then your post amongst other things has started to show me the beauty in “difficult”. Thanks so much for this 🙂 🙂

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  • Ricardo

    I work full-time for a youth ministry that requires an extended time away from home (and each other) most summers along with a few multi-day trips away throughout the year. She works full-time as well and does not have the flexibility to join me on these trips (which is possible in the summers especially…it seems the “old ways” of this youth ministry is that the staff person and their stay-at-home spouse would go together to work at a camp property for a month). It’s difficult for me to see an alternative to what transpired this summer: me gone for 16 days straight and she only able to visit for 2 nights. That was hard for both of us. What does it look like to “choose each other” in that case? Practical examples from your own life as it pertains to you and your husband’s career would be helpful! Thanks!!

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  • lucy

    So beautifully written. I would love to be married someday and this is exactly how I would want it to be.

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  • Jennifer C

    Am I thankful for this post. Thanks, Sarah. I love this line: “Sometimes all we need to carry on is to know we were chosen.” Yes – so true. But I also thought I would add this: “Sometimes all we need to carry on is to know we chose.” I was chosen, and I also chose. And that is life-giving.

  • Rose

    Oh good grief, that was beautiful. So glad you write. It encourages me to write and press on toward truth and hope and love.

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  • This is great work, Sarah. Spot on.

  • Asa

    I saw this on your Twitter today, thanks for re-sharing. I dated a young women several years ago who was on the opposite end theologically from me. We struggled but for may other reason besides those difference. But this article brings me hope as I am still dating and I find that I am often more theologically progressive then most (but not all).

  • Oh, Tulsa, and the search for a hidden back road to see the stars…

    Love this picture, of the wandering and being found, but choosing to do it together, not with the same beliefs, but side by side, hand in hand, near the garden. That’s some good stuff right there…allowing grace and space for self and lover to stretch and grow and change and morph and question and seek and be born again, again, over and over. When did Christianity become so that it’s all about sides and convincing and “aligning?” Happy Valentine’s to you two! xoxox

  • Not quite so sure how I stumbled into this, in a small town dive on an ordinary escape for me as my husband and I talked about this very thing… how we’re the choice over church and if we can try again, even one more time for the meanness… how can church people be so utterly mean?

    It’s good to read that your brave step away still paid off and paid the bills and led to a deeper, unorthodox and ordinary faith for you both. That is my deepest prayer for us as I feel so much angst and so little joy entering the narthex… although I still love that word.