I envision Donald Miller's metaphor from A Million Miles in a Thousand Years of an overnight kayaking expedition in British Columbia...there was vigor in the beginning and a visible, beckoning goal in the end...but several critical hours of the expedition were spent paddling in the darkness in the dead of night. Miller observed:
“I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids ... But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can't see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story.”
― Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
Life gets tricky in the middle. All the starry eyed gusto that propelled us forward in the early days has faded. Our dreams have encountered reality. We don't have to imagine 'for better or for worse' because we can think of real life experiences with both. I watch young friends starting their marriages and their parenting journeys with big plans, sweeping pronouncements of how they will and won't do things and Pinterest boards packed with ideas. I admire that sparkle and spunk, but compare it to my own daily life here in the middle which is 95% no glamour, no glory, just rowing through the middle.
Ryland & I strive to live with intentionality. And yet, as some of the shine has worn off we frequently remind each other that even epic stories have a lot of mundane parts--days where we just need to do the work, not flake out, finish strong. I can remember the warnings from couples ahead of us that sometimes marriage could be work and I scoffed. Work? What a terrible thought! This adorable man will never be work--and, of course, I won't be either!
Now I know that perhaps the better word choice would be that marriage requires paying attention and making adjustments--small ones constantly like a skilled sailor rather than drastic ones in an emergency because you've drifted off course.
I adore my husband. There is no one else on the planet I could imagine partnering with for this journey of life. And still, we are sinners--broken, inherently selfish and easily distracted. The tide of the world, the current of circumstances can distract me and tempt me to forget--especially out here in the middle.
Even though he is my favorite person and my partner, our daily lives are very different. My husband spends his days dealing with tumors, sterile equipment and diagnoses. I spend mine with children, disenfranchised people, Bible study & household chores.
Some days we struggle to finish a simple conversation, but we don't stop trying because he is my person. Real life requires that we spend time in 'divide and conquer' mode, but we can't stay in that mode if we are to remain a unit. Some days it is easier than others to fight my way through the haze of bills, child discipline, household chores and other mundane topics to catch a glimpse that reminds me how I passionately love that man.
I am fascinated by the fact that otters hold onto one another so they don't float away while they are sleeping. It is an adorable (and powerful) reminder for married people.
Drifting may well be the greatest threat to 'good' relationships.
In 13 years of marriage (and 4 years of dating before that) there has been ebb and flow in our relationship. Ryland & I are both fiercely independent. The pull of the world, our own pride, calendars and external demands are such that we must stay tethered so we don't drift away.
And when we do start to feel the distance, it is absolutely worth the effort to reach out and reel each other back in. This looks like making time together a priority, simple texts, or a stolen lunch date. And some days it is just a big hug and the words: "Hey, I'm on your team."
As much as I love those otters, when it comes to marriage, holding onto each other is not enough. Although if I were to float away with anyone, he would be my choice, we must also be anchored--to unchanging truth through a relationship with the Lord.
Our very romantic gift to one another was an exercise rower--our aging metabolisms made that more practical than anything else, but since I've realized the tie in to the Donald Miller metaphor it seems especially appropriate.
This morning the alarm sounded at 5:40 and the love of my life kissed me and said "Happy Anniversary." It was just a moment of romance because there were pets to feed, showers to take, email to return, kids to wake, breakfast to make...but it was a moment that I have carried all day.
I've learned that the whirlwind romance stuff of novels isn't my thing anyway--it is the faithfully showing up in real life, laughing at ourselves, being quick to forgive and seeking & serving the Lord together that sweeps me off my feet.
This is the good stuff...not because it is easy, but because it is deep, true, real and absolutely worth pursuing.
As the kids were packing up for school a little later K slipped me a note with a grin. As I looked at her homemade anniversary card I was reminded that we are not only living out a huge ministry to one another, our marriage is telling a story to our children and to the world at large.
“Marriage is one of the most humbling, sanctifying journeys you will ever be a part of. It forces us to wrestle with our selfishness and pride. But it also gives us a platform to display love and commitment.”
"We loved because He first loved us." -I John 1:9
God designed marriage. It is the most challenging and the most rewarding opportunity we have to practice Christ-like love in this life. God willing, we have a lot of years and their share of trials, triumphs and lessons ahead.
For better or for worse, I am incredibly grateful this man is mine.