Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Eighteen Years and Counting

There is no traditional gift for the eighteenth anniversary; you're supposed to make it to twenty for china. Twenty-five years starts the really good gifts: silver, pearl, ruby and so on. On June 7, Kimberly and I celebrated eighteen years. For us, it was signficant for reasons other than anniversary gifts. With divorce rates on the upward march, eighteen years of marriage seems to make us veterans who have survived a few battles. On the other hand, for our friends, many of whom have experienced broken relationships and divorce, it was an opportunity for muted celebration, tinged with self-reflection. One friend posted this comment on my Facebook page: Any secrets of longevity you want to pass on...?? This post is my reflection on her question.

Kimberly and I are really just beginning. I hope to be offering advice once we reach thirty-six years, forty years, not eighteen. Maybe that statement reveals an expectation and conviction my wife and I share: marriage is for life. We view being married as a covenant relationship, not a formalizing contract. For so many young couples, getting married merely validates their love and indicates the idealistic belief that they want to spend the rest of their lives together because they enjoy each other so much. The current norm, as I see living examples of it, is to share everything a married couple would, including a bed, before the contract is formalized. The norm Kimberly and I share is that marriage gives us the sacred right and the secure bond of entwining two lives together in a way that is unbreakable. That standard and expectation has guided us toward a "long haul" trajectory and protected us during hard times. The norm, however, has not been our consistent experience.

Complete vulnerability in this public forum is not possible: I won't detail our varied experience, but I will be open enough to confess that in these eighteen years we have been on the brink of a broken marriage more than once. Marriage, after all, may be a sacred covenant, but it binds together two sinners. My own sins have been the most prominent and damaging. Into a beautiful union I brought my separatist tendencies: selfishness, insensitivity, temper, insecurity, and more. Twice, our inability to get along has brought us to marriage counseling. (I would highly advice shelling out the money for qualified, sensible help as a safety net for a failing marriage.) A few times, Kimberly has had to decide, against all her feelings, to stay together. I have been hopeless a few times too. Neither one of us has wanted to settle for a lousy relationship just because we believe marriage is a sacred covenant. But both of us have benefited from going through the battles, letting them season us together rather than break us apart.

Like a crockpot stew, marriage seasons, mellows and paradoxically grows more intensely flavorful as two people endure the heat and pressure of common life. Children add to the mix. Our oldest two of five have reached the teenage years with typical challenges to family identity and unity. Still, we have unusually great kids (in my unbiased opinion) who are bringing us joy, despite the fact that the example we have set for them over the years is far from perfect. Kimberly and I are maturing as individuals too. Her words to me, that she is "the blessed one" for walking the aisle and taking the vows eighteen years ago, were better than any gift. They were the fruit of slow-cooked enrichment.

We have more miles to go, more battles to fight (hopefully more collectively than antagonistically) and more decisions to hold. Clearly, we have not been in this covenant alone. The Creator of covenant has unquestionably given us the strength of will, weakness of self and promised blessing to keep us together when everything else failed. The faith under which we sacralized our marriage has been our lifeline and tether. I don't pretend for a moment that Christianity automatically guarantees a divorce-proof marriage. But I do recognize and assert that not only the moral and social restraints but also the model and living example, along with the covenantal framework in which Christian marriage is embedded, have given us a frame to hold us together and a fortitude to make the long journey.

Here's to the hope, then, that Kimberly and I -- and all who enter the covenant of marriage -- will endure the distance and go for the gold, loving the race all the way to the finish.


Anita said...

Congratulations on your 18 years and thank you for sharing your ups and downs. My husband and I, after 21 years together, can relate. We too have been on the brink of separation more than once, and after accepting Christ late in our marriage, have come to understand just what the binding covenant of marriage entails: that it is actually a triad with God and ultimately exists to serve Him, as we raise our much younger children with this same belief.

Randy Greenwald said...

Hats off to Kimberly – a model of endurance...


Love you guys,


S Himes said...

And to think I thought I was doing good at almost 6 years (LOL)!

I feel like one of the rookies just arriving to the battle field. I've been shot at a few times but don't have the battle scars that those who have been on the battlefield longer. And my scars don't hold the merit of the "veterans"!

I pray that my marriage and house will continue to blessed and that down the road my wife and I will celebrate 10 times (if not more) the amount of years we've already celebrated)!

Thanks for posting! Congrats on the 18 years!

Judy LaRowe said...

I listen to the morning cruise every morning on the way to work and love you guys! Congrats on 18 years. My husband and I will celebrate 37 years together in August and if I can testify to one thing, it is totally worth it to work through any challenges! Our three beautiful daughters are married (to wonderful Godly men, I might add) and two of them have blessed us with grandchildren. I can't imagine not sharing all this joy with my man of 37 years!

Blessings to you!

Linda Deucker said...

Congratulations to you both and thanks for sharing! I agree that understanding marriage is a covenant is the key to working through the tough least for us. If you don't mind, we may share your article with the marriage mentoring team at Cornerstone.

Island Rider said...

Congratulations to you both and all praise to God for the wisdom and love He has given you. My husband and I will celebrate twenty-eight years this week so we are ten years ahead of you. Life gets even sweeter as the children mature and leave the nest. What an amazing thing it is to see God work in the lives of your children. But, you have to hold onto to each other and God so that the empty house does not become something that drives you apart, but instead, draws you together.