He was 103. She was 101. And they were celebrating 80 years of marriage when I found them. EIGHTY. YEARS.
I never even met them. But I will never, ever forget them.
I was home from college, and happened to be listening to the Christian radio station. The station was interviewing a couple who had been married for eighty years, and to my college brain where even thirty was old…one hundred seemed downright ancient. I couldn’t believe that a couple had even lived that long. And I was very interested in their love advice because of it.
I was not married at the time. I didn’t even know if Reid existed. I did not know the beautiful love story God had planned…or all of the suffering and sorrow He had planned for it.
All I knew is that I very much wanted to be in love someday, and I really wanted that love to last.
And when a very old man, who had walked with God, and the same woman for eighty years of life, began to share words of wisdom… I. Was. All. Ears.
He had three pieces of advice. Perhaps because when you’re eighty, you don’t need to be long-winded. There are very few people left who you actually care to impress. You know who you are. You know what you bring. And you bring the best of that.
Here was his best…
Marriage is hard. And God is good. I will say only this…
1. “I’m sorry,” are the most important words you could ever say or hear.
2. “Yes Dear,” goes a very, very long way.
3. And…always go to bed holding hands.
And that was it. The wisdom of the ages.
Sweet. Simple. And deeply important. Especially in a culture where we value “youth,” and “personal freedom,” and “finding oneself,” and “being true to your feelings”…above all else.
I am not certain if these are the exact words the old gentleman used. I didn’t write them down. I don’t even know his name. What I do know…is that these were his three pieces of marriage advice. And that this advice was very good.
Because we’ve lived it.
In a few days Reid and I will celebrate eight years of marriage. Eight years filled with more adventures, more beauty, more joy…and infinitely more sorrow and suffering than I had ever imagined.
It has not been an easy eight years…especially the last two. And it is deeply sobering to think back on the many trials we have endured together. It is sobering knowing that our marriage truly has been through more sorrows and stresses and struggles in the last eight years than many couples will face in a lifetime together. I used to feel “dramatic” when I would say things like that…but I realize now that it’s actually reasonable to say that our life has been uncharacteristically difficult, and eerily Job-like…because it just plain has.
But that does not mean that it has not been good. And it does not mean that our marriage has not been unspeakably wonderful…in the midst of a love story with so very much stacked against it. Because it has.
It has not, however, been easy. Which isn’t really a surprise, seeing as my relationship with the God Himself hasn’t been very easy as of late…and He’s at least perfect, and loves me with an unconditional love.
Reid however…doesn’t. His love is broken, and borne out of a broken, sinful heart.
Just like mine is.
And that, perhaps, is why that old man’s love advice from long ago…has meant so very much to us. Because, though I do not know the storms that his marriage endured, and they were probably very different than ours, I do know this…eighty years is a very long time to walk the road of life with someone. And I am certain that in a life and love story that long…there were storms.
Unless that sweet couple lived to be 115 and 113…they are probably no longer even here on this earth. And yet, their advice has outlived their love. Because of this, and because Reid and I are watching the final pages being written on the eighth year of our love story…I want to share the pearls of that marriage advice tried and tested over our 8 and their 80 years.
“I’m sorry.” Are the most important words ever.
Reid and I decided long ago that we were going to the “real deal.” That, in spite of a world full of “best foot forward” insincere relationships…we were going to commit to bring our true selves to one another. It seemed like a big risk, seeing as our true selves… are messy and broken and deeply depraved. But I don’t think love is worth much…if it’s not real deal love. I wanted to know that I had shown Reid the absolute worst of who I was…and seen the absolute worst in him…and still..after all of that…there was grace and truth and love. Because that…is the Gospel.
How else could you possibly know, and I mean really know, if anyone truly loves you…if they haven’t seen you. The real you. The one you know…and are embarrassed, shocked, overwhelmed, disappointed, and ashamed of. The YOU you brought to God….when you realized you needed salvation. The YOU you needed saving from. The YOU Jesus loves.
And so…from the very beginning…we committed to bring that person to one another. We both had lots of shiny, cordial relationships in our lives…what we needed was at least one relationship in all the world…that was completely the real deal.
And we found that in each other. Not…after our first year of marriage…when everything usually hits the fan. Not…a few weeks before we got married…when last minute things are revealed. We started there.
And it was messy, and hard, scary…but it was also so very good.
That is not to say that it was not terrifying to our twenty-something hearts. I vividly remember one day a few months after we were dating, when Reid (who is not generally a fighter I might add) drove off with tires squealing, after a big fight we’d had. I was terrified that he was going to get in a reckless driving car accident, and I would never get to tell him how much I loved him. I was also…relieved. Relieved that at least, no matter what happened to either one of us, or to “us” as a couple...if we were going to be together…the real Reid and the real Misty were going to show up.
Now, eight years later, there are less tire-squealing fights, and we are pros at “healthy conflict” resolution. Literally, pros. (We actually give seminars on it, and focus heavily on this during our pre-martially counseling sessions we do with young couples.)
That isn’t to say that we always live it. But we are definitely not where we once were. We still fight. Man, do we fight. And I am convinced that that is so very important for a healthy marriage. Convinced that if you don’t fight…well then, one or both of you have just stopped bringing your real self. Because every person, who makes up every marriage…is one big, fat, sinful mess. I will die on this hill, people.
I am a mess. Reid is a mess. And you are a mess. And the most beautiful part of any marriage…is that you have found someone, and you have made promises to someone…to always bring the mess. To always love the mess. And to always forgive the mess. No matter what.
Because that…is the Gospel. The Gospel is bringing your messy, broken self (who can really only promise more mess and brokenness to come)…into a perfect relationship with a Husband who is never broken, and never a mess. You offer that. And He offers you back, “I will love you no matter what. Because I love you in my Son.”
And marriage…the best marriages…are a picture of that.
That is why “I’m Sorry,” are two of the shortest and most important words in the English language. I have done, and especially said, so many horrible things to Reid. And at the end of every one of my wretched moments, all I could really offer is, “I am so very sorry,” from a truly sorry heart. And that’s all he could offer back. That is not to say that we do not seek God’s Spirit for help to grow, and for strength and humility to love better and deeper the next time around.
But having just finished our eighth year of marriage…I cannot say that we LOVE one another better. We forgive better. We hurt more when we hurt the other person. And we probably mean it more when we say, “I forgive you,” than we once did.
We also, let a lot more go…than we did in those first few years.
Which brings me to his next piece of advice. The “Yes Dear” moments.Honestly, Reid is waaaaaaaaaay better at this. I am not just saying this because I’m his wife, but because I’m his wife, I get to see it the most. Reid is one of the most humble, tender-hearted, unassuming people I have ever met. That doesn’t mean that he just “Yes Dear’s” my every wish and whim. He doesn’t. At. All. And even less so…as the years go by. But the heart behind this isn’t obligatory compliance. It’s preference. It’s a Corinthians 13 “Love does not demand it’s own way,” and Roman’s 12:10 “preferring one another in love” -kind of love.
I keep thinking of this couple in their hundreds…who spent EIGHTY years of life together. That’s eighty Christmases, eighty tax-days, and eighty Spring-Cleaning-The-Garage sessions. And I think to myself, “How in the world did they not fight through 80 attempts to clean the garage?”
The reality is…they probably did. There were probably a lot of “I’m Sorry’s” spoken in their garage as they packed and sorted. And there were probably a lot of “Yes, Dear” moments where they preferred one another, out of love.
“Yes Dear, I will help you clean the garage even though it’s a beautiful day and the waves are head high, and I would rather be pretty much ANYWHERE but here.”
Or, “Yes Dear, you can keep those golf clubs you never ever use, even though I trip over them ALL OF THE TIME, and then say bad words that our kids have an untimely way of repeating afterwards.”
(I’m not saying these are real conversations that have taken place in a real garage, like say, ours…I’m just giving food for thought here.)
Which brings me to his final piece of love advice. Sometimes, you haven’t even made up from the garage fight yet…and it’s time to go to bed. Don’t. Just, Don’t. Don’t let Satan win like that. Not when something as precious as your marriage is at stake. Don’t wait to make up. Don’t “sleep on it.” Because you’re not really sleeping on it, you’re sleeping with it. Don’t.
Sit up all night long, staring at each other silently on the couch if you have to…but don’t let the sun go down on that anger. Not when your spouse means so very much. I’ve heard people say, “But I’m just better after a good night of rest.” You’re probably not. And even if you are…your spouse will have had 8 solid hours to sit in their hurt and anger and the lies that come with it. Don’t wait. Don’t let those lies set in. Fight back. All night long if you have to.
I hope this doesn’t sound bossy. I hope I don’t come across as having the perfect marriage. I don’t. And I’m not generally a bossy person. I am, however, someone who is in the middle of the biggest storm of my entire life. I am someone who is deeply storm battered and weary. And…strapped to my life-boat is the man of my dreams who is as equally weary and battered as I am. And…I love him a billion times more than the day I married him. In a world where almost no couple makes it after the death of a child…we still love one another so very much. This is all God.
And I am convinced that it is because we are, both of us, deeply and equally committed to these three things.
And…to the God…who alone can move us to them.
Were it not for God…we could never say, “I’m sorry” as often as we do. Were it not for His Spirit…I don’t think I’d feel sorry. I definitely wouldn’t have the humility to say it.
Were it not for God….we would never “prefer one another in love.” It’s His command. And, as generally goes with the things He has called us to…they are hard enough to do that only He can do them. Through us. One shaky step at a time. In the garage. Or the parking lot of church. Or on our way to a date night. One shaking step at a time. Each time letting go of sin, and self, and pride, and self-absorption…to prefer the other person out of Cross-like love.
And were it not for God…I know that all of those very important, very healing, very Gospel-defining conflicts that Reid and I have had…would not have ended at three in the morning with two very broken, humbled sinners…holding hands. They did not all end that way. But I’m so very grateful that most of them did.
Eight years…is a big one. One one hand, it feels like no time at all compared to Eighty. But the reality is, that we live in a world filled with worldly people who rant about “The Eighty Year Itch.” And “The Seven Year Itch.” And whatever other man-made, self-serving, arbitrary “Itch” date our world has designed to tell themselves, “Those vows no longer matter because this year…well, this year is special. This year is the year you have permission to give up.”
Years seven and eight were special. But not like the world imagined it. They were special…because we stayed together. Through so very much soul-pain that the other person didn’t even cause. They were special because when it was harder than ever before…we said, “I’m sorry.” And preferred one another out of deep, reverent love for the God who loved us first. And went to bed holding hands.
After buring three precious children we desperately wanted. After dealing with astronomical medical debt. After losing literally everything we owned. After dealing with endless sickness, and cancer scans, and significant neurological poisoning from toxic black mold. And, perhaps hardest of all…after living with little sinners, and being big sinners who taught them everything we know.
And yet…we made it. We have been through a lifetime of pain and suffering in these eight short years.
And a lifetime of love.
I want to dedicate this post to my amazing husband. It’s one thing to agree with these noble ideas when you’re listening to the radio, as a bright-eyed college student who hasn’t even met the man of your dreams.
Its another thing entirely to live them out…when you have.
When you’re eight years in. Some of the worst eight years that many couples will ever have to go through, and many couples will never have to go through.
And we did.
Because of a lot of, “Yes, Dear’s.” And even more, “I’m Sorry’s.” And many, many broken, tear-filled nights…where we still, by God’s grace…went to bed holding hands.
I love you Reid Zeller. And whether this is our last year of life together, or God grants us 80 more…I am so deeply grateful that the person I have “been given to get through this life with…”
Happy Almost Eight.