It was easily the nicest hotel I’d ever stayed in with its huge escalators, expansive conference halls, ornate décor, and white tablecloth restaurants. I was there with hundreds of other college students for a campus crusade conference, hyped up on Mt. Dew and the sheer excitement of being somewhere “else”. I felt so grown-up, so “adult”, traveling to another state, rooming with friends from college, attending seminars, but I wasn’t.
I was just 18 years old with more baggage from my past than I even knew I carried.
I was a train wreck in disguise, sitting there laughing with my friends,
hiding behind my heavily highlighted Bible, and talking like I knew it all.
But you were there too, and desperate as I was, I reached for your hand.
You seemed solid, like an anchor that I didn’t know I was searching for. For whatever reason, you, handsome, brilliant, good family, hard-working, loyal guy who could have had any other girl, reached for my hand, the girl wearing the bib-overalls and a scrunchie hair-tie.
You took me to that white tablecloth restaurant and you watched with endearing amusement as I panicked over the vast number of utensils at my place setting and the uncanny way the well-dressed waiter watched my water glass. You soothed me through my ridiculous nervous laughter as your eyes shone with unadulterated infatuation.
We had been dating for all of two months then.
We were walking on clouds and wearing rose colored glasses, but now, here we are 13 years in to marriage.
We don’t walk on clouds anymore.
Sometimes it feels like we are walking through a swamp instead.
We don’t wear rose-colored glasses either. We took those off long ago so we could better see the other’s faults more clearly and point them out.
I didn’t know you then and you didn’t know me either, even if we felt like we’d been soulmates forever.
Today we are sitting at another table dressed in white, the waiter is amusing and attentive and we easily joke with him as I expect my water glass to stay full and you smile teasingly at how much water I drink.
It’s been a rough one, this thirteenth year of marriage, and it shows in the dark places hidden behind our eyes that only we can see. We hint at the pain with careful wording in our anniversary cards to each other and again in well-chosen conversations.
Wounds were created this year.
Not every memory we made was beautiful and sweet;
some were, but many weren’t.
We suffered this year.
Our family suffered.
We fell headlong into deep, emotional waters that we could not possibly have imagined before. It seemed like we might drown. There were moments when we wanted to walk away and there were times I wondered if we ever would actually grow old together or if we would simply become another statistic.
But something else colors our eyes tonight, tucked away between the lines around our eyes and the gray hairs filling in around your temples, there is maturity, insight, wisdom, and depth.
We have become known this year, you and I.
The truth is that honestly knowing our insides is scary and ugly, haunting and fear-filled. We often don’t like even to look at ourselves, much less share the view with someone else.
If I could have sat across from us at that first dinner seating, I would have held your hand and told you not to be afraid of loving me even though it would cost you so much. I would have told you that you were worth being loved and that someday, I would try to figure out how to love you beautifully instead of awkwardly. I would have cautioned you that my heart was yours and to be gentle with it. Mostly, I would want to encourage you that despite all the glorious highs and pitch-black lows, it would be worth it.
Then I would look into my own reflection and tell myself to get ready to wince as I would soon realize that I wasn’t as self-righteous as I touted, but in the same vein, I was more loved than I would probably ever fully know. There would be pain ahead and dramatic change, heart-wrenching loss, emotional wounds, and desperation, but there would be beauty too. Beauty that would take the form of confidence in who God had made me to be, I would be transformed by the Gospel’s love and mercy, my children would become an incredible treasure, I would know the abundant life that comes from following Christ despite pain, and through it all, something solid would be formed from all my weakness as my character would be built.
Dinner is over and we reach for eachother’s hands as we walk into our fourteenth year and all the years after that. True, it has been a rough year, but it was worth it because here we stand, fingers intertwined, hearts on the table, insides seen, and love being continuously built because of the rich grace of a God who never lets go.
We weren’t the same people that walked awkwardly into that hotel restaurant as swooning lovers and, thirteen years from now, I have no doubt we’ll look even more different.
We will only have two kids left at home,
maybe we’ll even be grandparents.
We will have added more sweet joys
as well as painful sadness.
I don’t know what it will all look like, but I am sure that you’ll still be my best friend and I’ll still be yours.
Not because I’m fabulous or because you’re amazing, but because our God is faithful to build our hearts, protect our marriage, and use our ever more apparent weaknesses to point to His glory.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,and
hope does not put us to shame,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit
who has been given to us.