Lately, I’ve been working on a project for our new bedroom. A picture wall, of artsy black and white photos, of all of our favorite places we’ve been together as a couple. We’re probably the only ones who will ever see it, and it’s really just for us. To remind us of the sweetness…in the midst of so much bitter.
But today, as I stood there looking at pictures of the gorgeous waters of Phuket where we snorkeled together, the bridge in Luxembourg where we watched the sunset and saw Mumford & Sons in concert, the little village in Provence where we got stranded in a summer downpour on our honeymoon…I was struck by something.
When we said “I do”…we had no idea that our story would be written in any of those places.
We’ve had so much fun exploring the world, and have truly been to some of the most spectacular places on earth together. But I had one thought alone as I looked over the pictures of the best adventures this world has to offer…
Not one of those pictures, of all of those beautiful places, captures the truly defining moments. Besides getting lost in Italy, and having to hitch-hike together through lizard-infested hills (which really was a defining moment of trust on my part)…those beautiful pictures, simply do not capture the most significant moments.
Those moments…were the hospital room where our sweet baby Charlie was born. The graveyard…where we buried every hope we had for his life. The fresh earth…that was tilled every time a new life was lost. The house we moved into…not knowing that the roof above us would have a profound impact on our lives. And this new address…where we struggle through each new day of in sickness and in health together.
Those are the moments that have most defined and strengthened our marriage. Those were the moments that have most taught us to cling to God and to one another. Those were the moments where we stood, surrounded by far more sorrow than beauty. And I stood in every one of those places of profound pain, and felt grateful for one thing alone…that he was standing there too. For just as we had no idea on our wedding day that we would hike the Great Wall in winter, or eat the best doughnuts of our life in Malaysia…we also had absolutely no idea that we were about to journey together to places of such deep suffering and sorrow.
And that’s…what marriage is.
It’s saying, “I have absolutely no idea where I am about to go…but I want to go there with you.” To places indescribably beautiful, and inexpressibly painful.
Marriage isn’t saying, “I will protect you from the pain.” Because it can’t.
Marriage isn’t saying, “We will only go to the fun places together.” Because a good marriage won’t.
And most of all…marriage isn’t saying, “I will love you so well in the hardest and most painful moments”…because sometimes, you just don’t.
Marriage is saying one thing and one thing alone…
I will be there.
When you rent a moped and adventure through Rome at sunset…I want to be on the backseat of that moped with you.
When you give birth to your first-born child, and hold her in your arms as the tears pour down…I want to be there with you.
And when you walk through the deepest heartache of your life…when your entire world crumbles…when some days you don’t even want to breathe air on this dark earth anymore…I want to be there too. I may not have the right words. I may even have the exact wrong ones. But I will not leave you.
And that’s why marriage is such a gift. Because who in the world would choose, let alone stick with, any one of us…if they actually knew exactly what they were getting into?
Marriage isn’t saying, “I’ve found the golden ticket!” Because, let’s be honest…you haven’t.
Marriage is actually saying, “You’re probably a mess. I’m surely a mess. This is probably going to be a big fat mess. And on top of it…we’re going to suffer. With one another. Because of one another. In spite of our deep love for one another. We, are going to suffer.”
But let’s suffer together. I want to suffer with you.
It’s my favorite part of I Corinithians 13. Verse four… Love suffers long.
I am so deeply thankful for my husband. So thankful for the ways his love has long suffered mine. So deeply thankful that I have not had to suffer alone. So thankful that, in spite of the tears he adds to my life, and the ones I add to his, I am not alone on this long road Home. I have someone by my side, for the indescribably beautiful and the inexpressibly painful. He is there.
Sometimes…we’re not even speaking because we couldn’t possibly maintain an intelligible conversation over the screaming children in the car…but he is there. Sometimes…we’re not speaking because we’re so incredibly mad at one another…but he is there. Sometimes we’re not even speaking because there is so very much pain and sorrow that there are simply no words for a heart that aches that much. But he is there.
Several years before I was married one of my spiritual mentors said to me, “There comes a day in every marriage when you will look at your husband and think to yourself, “Oh. No. What have I done?!” And when that fateful moment comes… Don’t worry. Because that moment is normal. Everyone thinks that at some point…at many points…in the journey of a life spent as “one” with another.”
Those…were wise words. Wise, because they’re true. Wise, because I’ve experienced them myself. Wise, because all of my honest friends have too. And most of all…she was wise to speak them, and I’m speaking them now…because Satan would love nothing better than for every married person…to think they were the only one hearing them. To think they were words to react to. Words that somehow meant more, than the words uttered when you stood before God and everyone- and said “I do.”
I have never felt so close to Reid…as I have in this last year of our lives. And also, at times, never felt so far apart. Our marriage has been through more fires than I can even keep track of. Fires of fear. Fires of loss. Fires of uncertainty. And fires of sorrow that I never, ever expected were coming on the day we said, “I do.” We stood up there in that beautiful old cathedral, full of Dr. Seuss-like dreams of “Oh the places we will go”…never dreaming it would be so adventurous. So beautiful. So stressful. And so utterly painful.
Our only dream…was that we would go there together. And by the grace of God, we have. And that is a gift immeasurable.
Because we work with college students, our kids end up being surrounded by weddings and marriage. They often talk about who they’re going to marry, and even worry about it sometimes, which I find totally adorable. I distinctly remember the time when sweet Fred, at the tender age of three, sighed a deep sigh from the backseat of the car. “Freddo,” I said, “What’s on your mind little bud?” Another deep sigh. “Oh, Mommy. WHO am I going to marry? No one wants to marry me. All the girls are just so busy right now?”
The weight of the world. On such handsome, eligible, little shoulders.
I don’t know what God has planned for Emma, Fred, and Sophie’s lives. I don’t know if any one of them will ever get to say, “I do.” I don’t know when. And, as much as I’d like to arrange their marriages, I don’t know to who. After all of the loss we have endured, I hold my dreams for my children’s lives far more loosely than most people. But if God has chosen the gift of marriage for our children, my prayer for them is a simple…
“God…please help them to treasure the person you have given to them to get through this life with. Please give them hearts that are faithful to love, and to love, and to love some more…no matter where the journey takes them. And please give them the grace to say, and to live out, “Wherever you go…I will go there with you.”
Thank you Reid Zeller- for being with me in every single one of the places we have been together. For the places that made the artsy picture wall. And the infinitely more precious places…that didn’t.