Today marks nine years of marriage to my beloved bride. I could fill a book with thoughts and feelings dedicated to the remarkable woman who bounded down the aisle before the music had chance to play on 13th August 2005 and kickstarted the biggest adventure of my life so far with vows, rings and barbecue and a bouncy castle.
But my wife really wouldn’t buy that book. Yesterday, in passing, she mentioned that she ‘hadn’t had chance to prepare any surprise for our anniversary’ and urged me not to post anything too lovey-dovey on Facebook.
And she’s right. Of course.
Because if I’m going to be honest about marriage, if I’m going to be vulnerable and real about my story, which became our story nine years ago, then I’d have to testify about how bittersweet our marriage has been, is, and most probably will continue to be. There has definitely been honey, plenty of sweet times making sweet memories that are easy to love and to cherish. But there has also been saltwater, rough times and broken dreams and unfulfilled vows and so many bumps and troughs and tears. Ups and downs. Saltwater and honey. Just like life, really.
Nine years ago, neither Sheila nor I could imagine the heartache of learning that I was infertile, that our ‘normal’ hopes of becoming ‘normal’ parents would suffer the crushing blow of hospital tests and diagnosis and operation and defeat. But we stood up in church before our families and friends and made those real life vows. For better for worse. For richer for poorer. In sickness and in health.
So on this anniversary day, I can look my wife in the face and celebrate with her the better and the richer and the health. We are so blessed to be able to make each other laugh and be supported by a wonderful community of friends and family and own our own home and live in an open, accepting society. And I can also acknowledge the worse and the poorer, the sickness that won’t ever go away. By now we’ve known it all, and goodness knows we’ve contemplated packing it all in, walking the easier road of pulling off the bandage and going it alone. We’ve cursed each other and humiliated each other and abandoned each other in hours of need. We’re still learning how each other works and how we can be the other half of this mysterious ‘two becomes one’ that Jesus talks about. And if I’m honest I don’t think we’ll ever entirely figure it out.
Yet there is a commitment in those vows to weather the storm, to cling on to each other by a thread and to survive, a painful faithfulness that is maybe worth something.
I’m not sure what the point of all this is. But today, I choose to be married. I pledge to do my utmost to honour the vows I made nine years ago. I resolve to put Sheila first, and fight for her, and champion her, and be good news to her. And I reckon it won’t be long before I stuff it up again.
Marriage is real life. It’s not Disney™ life, or Hollywood™ life, or even really like the marriages we see neatly packaged for us in church. The Bible uses marriage as a metaphor for how Jesus and the Church are meant to get along. And that’s encouraging. Because most of the time I stuff up being a Christian as well. I resent my infertility, chicken out of being seen and telling my story, let alone allowing Jesus to be seen and his story to be told in the way I live, the choices I make, the relationships I invest in. Yet he is faithful and gracious and kind and allows me to choose to follow him the next day, and the day after that, and so on. Warts and all.
And so here I am, choosing to be married today, conscious that it’s neither easy nor secure, that there is grace and gratitude to be practised and that I’ll doubtless get it wrong more often than I get it right. In this most real of real life covenants, I’m glad to have signed up for the sorrows and the joys, tears and laughter, saltwater and honey.
Happy anniversary, dear.