A friend asked last week, “If you had to get married where you met your spouse, where would your wedding have been?”
I smiled, because I would marry him at the church where I met him — which is exactly what I did do.
20 years ago today, we said our vows at the front of a church that turned out to play a pivotal role in our lives both separately and together.
At that place and with those people, I learned to listen to God and experience Him. In the late 1990’s, that was a revolutionary idea to me.
These were the people who helped Jonathan bury his mom a couple years after we met. They were the people who had helped raise him up to that time. In the wake of her death, they watched as our love story unfolded and then gathered together to witness my dad walking me down the aisle to him on a scorching hot July day.
These were the people who, a few years later, gave us our first paid ministry job, provided a spacious Parsonage to live in, and helped us bury his dad, a mere 8 years after he had buried his mom.
They were the people who watched us renew our vows 10 years in. That was 10 years ago now. Standing at the front of the church in maternity clothes, pregnant with our 4th child, we pledged our love yet again in the same place and with the same people.
They were the people who, 18 months later, sent us off to Cambodia, where we stayed for 8 years — and had intended to stay for 2 more.
20 years ago we didn’t say the traditional vows. We wanted our vows to be creative, personalized. These homemade vows of ours were full of love and good intentions, but they didn’t account for the better or the worse, the richer or the poorer, the sickness or the health that we would experience in our first 20 years of marriage.
And yet I have never once thought I would be better off without him.
I look back on these years with this man who is more like Jesus than any man I have ever known, and I see great hardship — and great joy. Joy and sorrow cannot be separated; they are conjoined.
So we laugh together, and we cry together. (And yes, we sometimes even fight together.)
At 38 years of age, I have lived with him longer than I have lived with my parents. I cannot imagine my life without him. I cannot imagine the person I would be without his influence in my life.
I cannot imagine what it would be like not to live with someone who daily lays down his life for me.
I once heard Nik Ripken (author of The Insanity of God) say, “This is what it means to be the head of your household: it means YOU DIE FIRST.”
I have seen Jonathan die first a thousand times.
Nik was speaking in the context of danger on the mission field, but the phrase stuck with me, because I think it applies to everyday life too.
Sometimes I sacrifice, sometimes he sacrifices, sometimes we both sacrifice. This is how you make it to 20 years: one death at a time.
The news is not all bad, though. After death, comes new life. And with new life, comes joy. You don’t get to 20 years of holy matrimony through sorrow and suffering only. You also get there through joy. (The help of a good church doesn’t hurt either.)
The last 20 years have been pure privilege to me. I hope and pray for 20 more, and 20 more after that. But I know that every day I have already been given has been a gift.
There is no one who makes me laugh more heartily, think more deeply, or feel more understood than Jonathan. You are the best friend a girl could have. I have always said “comrade” is the closest English word to what you are to me. I thank you for giving me the rarest of gifts — that of comradeship.
I love you: for always, forever, for life.