Summertime is for flip-flops and barbeques, sandy beach towels and magnificent sunsets. Evening fire-pits and spontaneous car rides ending in ice cream. Sun pulses against evening shadows, turning to morning rays tapping through the blinds early; awakening the birds who trill the beginning of another dawn.
Summertime is also for weddings.
I remember one pretty summer morning, twenty-seven years ago this August. My maid-of-honor and I had whispered late into the night, dreaming of our long anticipated futures: grown-up lives and handsome husbands and future children, with nary a clue of the complexities of real-time marriage: the newness, followed by the permanency of our vows, followed by shadows of our own sins pressed up against a fellow heir of Christ with his own shortcomings. All of it intricate and beautiful and crushing…this becoming one. A slow dance requiring a lifetime of learning, loving, forsaking self, forgiving, and growing. It is never what one imagines; but far more weighty; made richer through sacrifice.
Any two may properly answer the questions posed during the finest of premarital counseling, in addition to reading all of the books, but still. It is like researching and daydreaming of swimming: proper techniques and strokes and breathing; the rhythmic arm motion and kicking. At some point you can only learn to swim by letting go and jumping into the water.
But on that breezy, blue-skied August morning decades ago, I knew none of these things, and my first order of business was to join my bridesmaids, each of us fresh-faced and tan in our umbros, soft t-shirts, and wedding shoes. We danced the driveway and laughed, performing the twist as we intentionally scuffed the bottoms of our slightly heeled shoes so as not to slip while later walking the aisle to Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (them) and Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntaire (me).
That scuffing did the trick; it gave the shoes solid traction for wedding day festivities. It altered the shoes for the better, and although no one could see the ugly pavement marks, hidden beneath our feet, they remained. We each survived the long, lilting walk down that brilliant aisle to the front of the sanctuary.
I recently heard of a couple who has been married a handful of years, claiming to have never once argued. Pardon me? I nearly choked. This seems so impossible, that I am left wondering if one of them is void of opinions? Have they both reached an impossible perfection?
I am not suggesting to go home, cantankerous and spoiling for a fight, but in any real and honest marriage some scuffing up will happen, and if weathered for better or worse, will produce a gradual change in this merging of two distinct people: one man, one woman. It is the staying, the dogged determination to see this promise through, without optional exit ramps, but frequent: I am sorry and will you forgive me pleadings that result in something beautiful and lasting and God-honoring.
There is a glorious triumvirate in a Christian marriage: God…husband…wife. Through the scuffing and scars and suffering, your footing will become more sure, only if you first bow in obedience to God. Ephesians 5:21-33 has taken Jon and I years to practice and learn. It is the simplest and most difficult formula to flesh out. But it works. Dying to selfishness and sin, plus continually striving to outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10) is no cheap trick. It is costly, as is loving your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). A spouse, as it turns out, is our closest neighbor.
This is what I do know: as pretty as cut flowers gifted by my husband and perched tabletop appear, they pale in comparison to the truly costly. Who knew that Jon’s filling up the truck with fuel, or taking out the bulging trash bag, working so hard to pay unexpected bills, bringing me ginger ale and saltines when I was down for the count, or patiently rubbing the back of our sick children in the middle of the night would have stitched my heart to his? The grit of life. These are the selfless acts that make a velveteen rabbit marriage: soft and worn and a bit threadbare, yet beautifully blended and cherished and deeply good. Love is kind.
Many years ago we took the children and our dog to romp at the park, where we played for hours: football, swing sets, slides, timed races. It was lively and it was fun.
As we drove away, I looked down and gasped: my diamond setting in my engagement ring was gone.
We returned and combed the park, which was of course futile: acres upon acres of field and sand, and we had played upon it all. As we drove home, it was quiet in the car until Marcus, age six, whispered: Mommy, you and Daddy are still married though?
I laughed, and the sadness fled. We pulled into our driveway and I scooped him up and reassured him, and myself, that a diamond is just a thing, not nearly as important as the husband and wife in covenant.
Oddly enough, within a year, I was slicing apart frozen chicken, when the knife in my right hand slipped, cutting a fast and angry gash above my wedding band. My finger swelled faster than I could remove the ring, which left a helpless choking sensation in my left hand.
Jon rushed home and we raced to a walk-in clinic, where a doctor sawed the band off. The relief was immediate, followed by tears. Hadn’t it been enough to lose my diamond? Now I was holding a crudely broken wedding band. But then I remembered: it was an object. We had each other.
Ultimately, we paid a jeweler to repair it, and I wear it now. We persevere: a circle of gold, without end.
This August, soon after celebrating our twenty-seventh year of marriage, we will embrace our first grandbaby. This circle of life looks much like our worn wedding bands. As our children begin their marriages, promising their own vows, Jon and I will cheer them along. God treasures marriage.
I sometimes study the familiar silhouette of my husband, and remember all of the love and fun, sacrifice and hardships, disagreements and differences, and then marvel at the kindness of God. Those scuff marks have formed us, sometimes in the furnace of affliction, while enabling us to step down the aisle of life together. Not in perfection, but with strength and love, inching forward still, holding our covenant high before God. The journey of a lifetime.