We stood face-to-face, me in my Princess Diana-like white lace gown, him in his light gray tuxedo, pink bowtie at his neck. Our eyes locked; three hundred witnesses faded and all I saw was him. The time had come for my promise. Six months earlier I made a vow to him, wrote it in my journal, and now I was to speak it aloud.
Emotion collected in my throat, lifted to my eyes, and spilled down my face. “From this day forward…” I promised, “I will love you.” Young and naïve I didn’t really understand what that meant, and yet I was determined to live it out.
Sometimes life teaches us what not to do. As a child I witnessed how not to love. My parents divorced when I was young and I have very little recollection of them being together. From them I learned that love does not last. Love is fleeting and easily refocused on another.
My mother remarried when I was eleven. At the time I was hopeful. Like an orphan wishing for a family to belong to, I longed for a father to love me, to be engaged in my life, to make me feel special and delighted in. My dreams crashed and shattered into a million tiny pieces within months of them returning from their honeymoon. Instead of a love-filled home, I lived in a war-zone. I was constantly vigilant, my radar scanning for the next air-raid. I spent most of the next ten years (before I got married myself) in the bomb-shelter of my bedroom protecting myself from the shrapnel of the grenades’ they hurled at each other. At thirteen I promised myself, God, and my future husband, I would never live allow war to dominate my marriage.
In his song Grace Upon Grace, Matthew West sings, “How can you see me at my worst and still say I am loved?” I know those words are to Jesus, yet every time I hear them, I think of my marriage. I envision Tim wondering the same thing, hoping he knows how true it is. Similar to my vow-making wedding day moment, emotion swells from my heart and spills out my eyes. Yes, every time.
Truth be told, I DO love him, I love him to overflowing, at times my heart could burst. And I love him regardless of his worst. I have seen him at his worst, how could I not? I witness his every day; his every bad mood, his every mistake, his every flaw. And I also see his every triumph, his every joy, his every best moment. And what if his best or worst didn’t matter? What if the consistent message he gets from me is, “You are loved?” What if I captured my unkind thoughts, bit back my angry words, and purposefully expressed myself with gentleness and kindness? What if, no matter the circumstance, when he looked into the mirror of my eyes he saw how deeply and unmistakably loved he is? How I admire him, respect him, and adore him?
The song continues “What promise can I stand on when I don’t feel good enough?” It’s easy to see Tim standing, facing me, asking the same questions after he’s “failed” or behaved at his worst, his eyes clouded with shame and fear.
And my answer to him is…. the promise I made to you in the quiet of my bedroom when I wrote it in my journal. The vow I repeated before God and three hundred witnesses as you stood facing me, holding my hands in yours, the same fear and question in your eyes. The promise that I will spend myself loving you. I know I will also fail you, and when I do, I promise I will repurpose in my heart to love you more, and love you better.
Is that not what marriage is? Is it not where we can mirror the extravagant, reckless love of God in our flawed and feeble humanness? The miracle is, God rewards our efforts, and our homes become a little piece of heaven on earth, governed by the rule of matchless, unconditional love.