This time last year, Kyle and I were on a trip to celebrate a quarter century of married life. I’ve been married longer than I’ve not been married. Which is kind of crazy. We married very young. I’m sure many thought we wouldn’t make it. The odds were certainly against us.
But we loved each other and God and made a life together even without much support or community in those early years. By the time we were in our early thirties, we’d helped plant a church and numerous ministries. People were regularly asking us for marriage advice and telling us how they wanted their relationship to be like ours–full of laughter and partnership and mutual respect. But the truth was that there were some chinks in our relationship. Many of which we didn’t recognize ourselves. And they widened into a chasm during a series of devastations. We both felt like failures. We both felt abandoned by the other. Trust was broken in various ways. Life was turned upside down. It was a time of unspeakable darkness.
From the beginning, we’d promised never to say the word divorce. But I said it. Because it felt increasingly impossible to imagine a way back. On our twenty-fourth anniversary, I was in a hotel room alone in a far away city. I needed space to search out how to move forward and discern what God’s invitation was. Our marriage felt broken beyond repair. I didn’t know what to do but I knew it felt dishonest to celebrate a wedding anniversary that year.
We had so wanted to be different. We believed in marriage that lasts a lifetime. Still do. But we were naïve, idealistic. I can see at least some of the mistakes that led to that day. Kyle was an incredibly hard worker (good) but left precious little time for family and self and sabbath (not good). I believed in him and us and the work we were each pouring our lives into. But I didn’t speak up about my concerns loudly and often enough. And there was lots of ignorance in both of us about how commitment and relationship really work. See, we are both persisters. This is a good thing but without wisdom it’s dangerous and eventually toxic. I think we thought commitment had to be something something dogged and hard. But love doesn’t work that way.
We were the teachers. We were the role models. We had a plan and could talk about it clearly and passionately. But it was too much head and not enough heart. It was too much vision and not enough laughter and play. Too many scheduled meetings (more often than not to go over our calendars) and not enough just being. Too much focus on the why rather than simply living the what.
And yet somehow the pieces began to come back together. Because of God’s love and mercy. Because we didn’t stop fighting. We kept seeking wholeness with God as individuals and with each other. Kyle began to seek health in some important ways for him and for our relationship.
And a year ago, trust and friendship and romance were being rebuilt. We were laughing together again. And so, to celebrate renewal, we took a trip to an island neither of us had heard of before. It was fun and beautiful.
On our anniversary, we spent some time reading all kinds of wedding vows. We needed to make some new promises. The old ones didn’t resonate anymore. We chose the traditional Quaker vows from a 1675 London meeting and added some nontraditional vows that were relational and felt sustainable and wise. And then on a deck overlooking the ocean and the stars, we spoke those vows to each other. We promised to love each other and embrace mystery together. We promised to respect each other and honor differences. We promised to face change together. We honored an assembly—in this case of trees and stars and waves and of a cloud of witnesses of our brothers and sisters that have gone before us and felt nearly tangibly there. We promised to be loving and faithful. We spoke our trust in divine assistance, knowing now more than ever the degree to which it is our best and only hope.