Sunday, September 27, 2015

What it Takes

We should not have made it. By most markers designed to project marital success, we should not still be together...

Ours was a teenage marriage--I was 18 and Ron barely 21. Neither of us went to college. We had five children we could not afford at inopportune times. Only one of us was employed and we hovered below the poverty line for many years. Our personalities were not compatible. He was introverted and private, I never met a stranger. He liked to work, I liked to play. He was cautious and needed to plan, I craved adventure and preferred to fly by the seat of my pants. As you can imagine, there was friction in those early years. Lots of it. We fought noisily in our mobile home in the tight quarters of our trailer court. We fought in the car. We fought quietly in front of others with murderous looks and jabs under the table. I embarrassed him. He infuriated me. Three months into this gig I learned I was pregnant. While Ron spent those early days detailing cars and changing oil at a nearby car dealership, I laid around the house napping and puking. It was all terribly romantic. Two weeks before our first anniversary, I gave birth to our daughter after a long and truly awful labor. They handed us our dark-haired, flannel-wrapped, burrito-baby and we looked at her with pity. "They should require a license to take one of these home," we thought with great anxiety. "What in the world are we going to do with her?"

Somehow we managed to muddle through our daughter's infancy and toddlerhood and, over the next ten years, we added three more children to our collection. During this time, we moved perhaps a dozen times. We lived in a camper on Florida's gulf coast, a double-wide prefab with mysteriously lumpy carpet in rural Missouri, and with the in-laws on two separate occasions. He milked cows and did field work, red-eyed night shifts as a hotel clerk, bagged groceries, did custodial work, and odd carpentry jobs, and started his own business--all so he could pursue youth ministry, his real passion. I dabbled in gardening, canning, and making my own baby food. I got good at living off almost nothing--acquiring most of our clothing and furniture from yard sales, baking my own bread, culturing gallons of raw milk yogurt, folding mountains of line-dried cloth diapers, gestating and lactating all the while. His work required him to take more risks and to put himself out in front of people. Motherhood calmed me and made me more introspective and careful.

In our thirties, we moved some more. Our older kids changed schools six times in six years--from a quiet country schoolhouse to a burgeoning Philadelphia middle school to a hundred year old private high school. We became foster parents and welcomed some amazing and challenging people in and out of our home. We bore our fifth and Final Hurrah Child into a houseful of teenagers who left the house one by one to attend college, marry, and reward us with beautiful grandchildren in sets of two and three.

This last half of our marriage has brought less moving and more aging. If bodies are like wrappers, ours have gone from tight and shiny shrink-wrap to faded, sagging Saran Wrap. In 36 years, we have seen each other in holey underwear, unshaven, and before make-up. We have beheld the ugly tears. We have voiced the meanest words, the most selfish thoughts, uttered with the worst breath. Door slamming, phone throwing, dysfunctional, disorderly, disabled messes; there were days when there was very little that was loveable about either of us. NOT the best foot forward--ours was the stuff you hoped to hide. We all quickly realize that the masks come off in marriage and, all to often, so do the gloves. But back there, behind the scenes in the place where Real Life happens, we have been privileged to experience the Best in one other human being: One person who always has your back that would defend you to the death, take the bullet, hurl themselves in front of a speeding train without a second thought, give you the last life vest on a sinking ship or the last brownie in the pan. Thirty-six years and you can almost read the other's thoughts, anticipate their actions, speak in their place. We are learning what it means to be ONE--the messy melding of two very different people into a team that reflects more than any sappy Hollywood romance ever could.

Because God...God was there all along. We invited Him to the wedding. He was there on the honeymoon for the having and the holding. He's been present for the better and the worse, sustaining in the richer and poorer, holding us in sickness and in health, teaching us what it means to love and to cherish another, FAITHFUL to US 'til death. We've never spent one moment on this journey alone. Marriage was God's idea, after all, not Man's. He knows what we need and He's very much in the thick of the process with us. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 rings as true today as it did September 29, 1979:

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."
Thank you, Lord, for being the Strand that has held it all together--to YOU be all thanks and glory and praise! And Happy Anniversary to my BEST and Other, Ron. I would do all again in a heartbeat! I'm so glad you chose ME.