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.
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.