On marriage :: Sarah Bessey

It’s been fourteen years today since I walked-when-I-wanted-to-run down the chapel aisle to you. Do you remember how the sun was shining but the air was still heavy and wet with the Oklahoma thunderstorm of the day before? We were kids, really, with the intensity of evangelicals about everything from God to each other to our dreams for the future, and that’s okay. We grew up together and that has its own kind of crazy.

You used to be a night owl but that has changed over the years in response to the demands of family life and work. You still love a sleep-in now and then. I’ve always been a morning lark but now I love a good sleep-in too and so we trade – Saturday for one, Sunday for the other. The rest of our life, we rise early trying to get a jump on the day. I hear about couples who wake up early to read the Bible together but that’s never been our thing. You get up and head straight out the door to work in a career you never imagined yourself in fourteen years ago. I get up and head straight upstairs to get the four babies we made ready for their day, pouring cereal and taming curls and brushing teeth and searching for library books. After everyone is out the door, I will settle in to write a sermon. It’s the job I never imagined myself doing fourteen years ago.

We did remember to say “happy anniversary” today. This isn’t a year for big celebrations, we know that. We can’t even manage a supper out yet, our last little baby is still too new for such indulgences. Other people don’t quite get this priority but we get it. We’ve learned by now that there is plenty of time for suppers-out and date-nights and get-aways, these sorts of baby-days only happen a few times in our life. And we’re perfectly happy to be home with the four tinies and take-out.

Maybe next year we’ll do something fun.

Does that sound familiar? Remember how we were planning a trip to the U.K. for our fifth anniversary but then I was six months pregnant on our anniversary and we went to Stanley Park instead. Then we made plans for Mexico for our tenth but instead, well, Evelynn was just four weeks old and we went to Vancouver for a day instead. Then we started to make plans for a driving tour of the western coastlines for our fifteenth but Margaret will only be a year old by then and likely still nursing so we’ll see. Well, maybe the big twenty! Big twenty! we joked.

Who are we kidding?

I remember when we were dating and we didn’t have a dollar for a Sonic drink between the two of us. We used to walk to Walmart across the parking lot of the Mabee Centre in Tulsa on Saturday nights, ending up sitting under the trees and the stars, waxing philosophic as only two college kids who take themselves too seriously can. We never ran out of things to say and we still haven’t. I’d still walk to Walmart with you. When we have an ordinary sort of night, you say, “We made walking to Walmart into a fantastic date” to remind that these ordinary nights matter in a love story. So tonight, we’ll eat take-out on the couch while our babies sleep in their beds and the owls swoop in our forest out back and we talk about the future and what we want to do and then you will ask me if I’d like to watch Jimmy Fallon tonight and I will say yes.

Fourteen was a hard year for us in some places. I can admit that easily. So can you. A lot of change, a lot of upheaval, life demanded much of us and we have tried to rise together. We don’t have any false self to prop up anymore, no pride left, not much dignity. We dance in the kitchen sometimes, and we negotiate soccer practices and bills and crock pots, and we kiss ferociously still, but quietly, so that the kids won’t wake up and interrupt us. This is real life, it’s all real. We have failed each other at times over the years, disappointed each other, and yet we have somehow grown stronger and more whole, become more us, for those very stumbles and frustrations and heartbreaks. It’s the Kingdom economics at work – the very thing that was meant to slay us saves us. The first is last, the least is the greatest, the hurts became our places of communion. We guard those places now.

The day that Margaret was born was another turning point for us somehow. You came down to my depth and you held on. I still haven’t been able to really express it and maybe I will someday or maybe not, maybe some things simply need to be carried without words.

You have seen me at my best and at my worst and you never faltered, you never failed me. You are more than a metaphor.

It changes a woman to know that she can go right down to the bottom of herself and find only love there. You have said the same thing to me about different moments in your life. This is what we do for each other.

We have learned in fourteen years of marriage that our net will hold, we hold each other, so we keep that net strong, we’ve learned this the only way you can learn it: the hard way.

This morning, I said to you, “you know, I should really do a Fourteen Things We’ve Learned in Fourteen Years of Marriage post. It would be fun. We might enjoy figuring it out together.” We looked at each other for a half-second and then we kind of laughed.

“I can’t think of anything off the top of my head,” you said. “Me, either,” I said. “The only thing I know is that I know a lot less now than I used to think I knew.”

“That’s not your style anyway,” you said.

I didn’t know then what I know now about how our life would unfold. It looks very different than we expected. You have changed and I have changed: that’s one of the best gifts we have given each other over the years, room to change and evolve and become more fully ourselves. We have been uncovering our real selves over these fourteen years. But I love that you still call me “Styles” when you’re teasing me.

I like who you were and I like you who are and I like who you are becoming. I like us.

You went out the door to work, the kids went to school, the baby went to sleep, and I thought, well, maybe we do know a few things. There are things we have established in our marriage right from the start that have worked for us: how we handle money, how we speak to each other, how we make decisions, how we lead our family together, how we parent, how we work. We’re practical and we’re committed and we communicate well (eventually) – those three things go a long ways.

Maybe they are our own thing though. What works for us probably wouldn’t work for someone else’s marriage.

Over the years, I’ve decided that it’s less about the rules we keep and the boundaries we maintain and the principles we practice in this marriage. Those are helpful and useful, absolutely. But that isn’t the stuff of magic. It’s the work that creates space for the magic.

But the magic, ah, now that’s our thing. That has always been our thing. Maybe the one thing we have absolutely in common: we crave the magic, the love affair, the passion, the sense of destiny, the great story of us. We are matched in passion. We aren’t content to just get by as roommates, we demand magic of each other, we demand meaning out of even the most mundane moments of our life together.

We only feel disconnected and furious when the magic has departed from us. Even though we know better than to believe in soulmates, practically and logically and theologically, we still default to that language because it’s all we have: soulmates. Meant to be. We were always meant to be, we believed it then, and we choose to believe it now.

Here is the best magic maker we’ve discovered so far: you first. 

You first, you first, you first. 

Selflessness is best practiced in concert. We choose each other. You lay down your life for me and for our children. I lay down my life for you and for our children. We put each other first, together, in practical ways and spiritual ways, in our dreams and our visions, in our minds and hearts towards each other. It’s not perfect and we make mistakes and we’re occasionally both very selfish. Maybe me more than you. But right from the start, there was never a second thought, never a wonder if something better might come along someday. You choose me and I choose you and who else was there for us but each other?

You saw the real me before I did. I see the real you still. Your hair is turning grey and it suits you. You are a better person than I could ever dream of being. I’m getting bolder. We’re still dreaming of what could be. We are each other’s best mirror.

 

photo by Sharalee Prang

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