wherever these vows may take us

The older I get, the more my perspective on weddings changes. Don’t get me wrong. The girly girl in me loves a beautiful wedding. I still tear up, I’m still a sucker for the moment the minister declares, “You may kiss your bride.” The amateur photographer in me loves a decked-out venue with creative décor. I still love the flowers and up-dos and fun bowties and slick getaway cars announcing “Just Married”. I adore all of it.

But when it comes time for the vows, I’m less romantic. I think a lot more. I wonder if they hear themselves, what they are saying, what they are promising. I wonder if I heard myself not a few years ago when I proclaimed, “For better or for worse.”

The first wedding I attended this year happened just a month after the bride’s mom passed away after many, many years of health problems compounded by more health problems. The bride’s mom and dad remained fiercely in love through it all, as she was sick through the majority of their marriage, and he poured out his life to care for her, even as they raised their children and he pastored two churches. The bride and groom had scrambled to help plan her memorial service, so that they could then finish their wedding preparations. When they stood in front of their friends and family and vowed, “For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, til death do us part,” there was not a dry eye in that place. They knew, from a very delicate and realistic place, what they were committing to.

About a month ago, I received an email from one of the missionaries in Thailand whom I was able to financially support through my anti-human trafficking photo fundraiser project. She wrote of how her husband has recently been involved in some exciting but dangerous operations to help apprehend some of the perpetrators. This is a couple who met and married in the States, originally working as CPAs. Stable and successful in every worldly sense, they undoubtedly never dreamt on their wedding day that they would end up raising their two young children in Thailand, sacrificing the comforts of the life they knew, sacrificing time with one another and putting the husband in harm’s way to fight global human trafficking. “For richer or for poorer.”

Also within recent months, a beloved coworker was diagnosed, through the most divinely providential set of unforeseeable circumstances, with a malignant brain tumor. He and his wife, both exceptional athletes, undoubtedly fell in love in part due to their mutual passion for the outdoors and for their respective sports. We are all optimistic for his recovery, and I love that he has already, in faith, signed up for future races. But surely they never saw this curve ball coming at this stage in life.  “In sickness and in health.”

When two people find each other, fall in love, and persevere through the ups and downs of courtship to even make it to their wedding day, it is a gift, it is hard work, it is a miracle. When two people hold fast to their vows from that day, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, in light of every curve ball and adaptation and sacrifice,

it is, at the risk of sounding cliché and cheesy,

true love.

I wasn’t lying then, but I am more honest now

Do you and your husband interact differently now than when you first got married?

I can’t stop thinking about this question posed to me and the husband by a soon-to-be-married couple, and my brief response at the time:

I think we’re a lot more honest with each other now.

Much of this is because we know ourselves a lot better, we know each other a lot better, and we’re more familiar with ourselves in light of one another. We know ourselves in ways that can only be revealed through shared life under one roof for an extended period of time. It wasn’t so much that we were being dishonest during the period of courtship. There were just so many things that had yet to be more fully revealed; hence there was only so much we could intentionally disclose to each other, much less ourselves, when we were still just dating. Learning to see oneself and one’s spouse truthfully in the context of many different life circumstances inherently takes time, effort, and experience. Surviving the occasional shock of these lessons requires honesty, humility, and the openness to being shaped and reshaped by another person – again, and again, and again. I thought I knew myself so well when we got married. I thought I wouldn’t really change all that much with time. Wrong on both counts. But a good kind of wrong, I would say. Deeper self-awareness and growth are from God. This marriage has been both the context and the tool.

Much of this is also about growing in trust and commitment. Unlike in dating or engagement, the entire relationship is no longer on the line if I say too many things that displease or unsettle him, and vice versa. (Obviously I am not applying this to more extreme cases like abuse.) We’re committed to walking together for life now, so we might as well be more honest about those issues that make the road rougher, and learn to truly smooth them out rather than romantically gloss over them. After all, if I’m not really planning to stick around, or he’s thinking of calling it quits, then I can lie and say it doesn’t really bother me that much that he roots obnoxiously for the Trojans. But since I must live with this major character flaw of his, then I might as well tell him how I really feel about it and then figure out some sort of compromise. No honey, we can’t paint the whole house cardinal and gold, but you can buy that ugly jacket. Just don’t wear it out on our date nights. Our love for one another is not perfect, obviously. (How could anyone love a Trojan fan perfectly?) But we can move from places of being stuck in our shortcomings, forgive one another because Christ has already forgiven us, and work hard at moving forward for good because this is how God in His forbearance loves us.

We’re coming up on eight years of marriage. I had someone say to me the other day, “After fourteen years for me and my spouse, it’s now more about tolerance than it is about love.” I found that to be incredibly sad. Less newlywed romance, perhaps. But mere tolerance and only wistful remnants of love? I don’t think it has to be that way. I think with each day, month, year together, we’re building something that is ultimately helping us to say an even more honest “I love you” now than what we uttered on our very wedding day.