But here we are celebrating 12 years of married life together. High fives, smiles, a hug and some passionate kisses were shared between the two of us along with a scrumptious dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Bonefish Grille.
To most who know us and anyone who follows me on facebook, it is not a secret that Lawrence and I have what we feel is a hard marriage. Truly, I realize that there are marriages that are SO much harder than ours. What defines a hard marriage anyway? I suppose every marriage is hard in its own way.
So, let me take just a sentence or two to define what is hard about OUR marriage. In a nutshell, Lawrence and I are the two most opinionated, proud, stubborn people on the planet. A close friend of ours recently said that we are two control freaks battling it out for control all day, everyday. We care about too much. We are passionate about too much, and we are skilled debators. Everything can become fodder for a fight between the two of us. From parenting decisions to home improvement choices to how we spend a Saturday, we can somehow find a way not only to argue about it but to make a case as to why it is so very crucial that we argue about it. I am telling you; it is exhausting.
But, we have scratched and clawed our way to celebrating 12 years together. We have confessed sin to one another, asked for forgiveness, and granted forgiveness more times than we can count. We have invited countless friends and mentors and, in the last several months, a professional marriage counselor into the nitty gritty details of our marriage by way of soliciting their counsel and prayers.
We read books on marriage, make date night happen regularly, and "always kiss each other goodnight" (sometimes at 2 or 3 in the morning because the fight lasted that long). We have pet names, nothing overly exotic or gross, but pet names nonetheless. We call each other during the day almost every day. We communicate a lot. about a lot. We still hold hands when out in public. My husband opens the car door for me and pumps gas for me as much as he has the opportunity to. But, let me tell you, all these things really are just motions and can be playacting for us and any married couple if there aren't a few things in place.
I am CLEARLY not in a position to give marriage advice, or maybe I am. Maybe because married life (and even our dating life for that matter) has not been a walk in the park and the most blissful, emotionally buoying experience, I do have a few things I can say work well in propelling a marriage in the right direction.
1. Commitment is what will carry you to 2 years, 12 years, 22 or 52 years. There is no way around this. When we take vows to love "in sickness and health and in good times or bad", we really have NO way of knowing how that resolve is going to be tested. And a part from infidelity or abuse, there is a whole heck of a lot one or both of you may be required to endure for the sake of the vow you made.
Which leads me to the 2nd thing...
2. GRACE. Grace as I best understand it is giving to someone that which he does not deserve. This can be tangible or intangible. I have long, too long, like until just a couple months ago long....treated Lawrence based on his performance or lack thereof. I have standards in my mind, sometimes that I am not even aware of until they're not met, and when he does not meet those standards, I basically punish him in some way. Wow...this just does not lead to anything good for anyone.
I think I am only recently realizing that true love for Lawrence (and anyone for that matter) must and can only truly come from a heart that is not demanding anything in return, a heart that is willing to overlook offense, a heart that is so full of GOD's unconditional love and acceptance of her that she can draw upon that to give to her husband. There is so much more that could be said about this, but I'll move onto #3.
3. Be real with the people around you about the hard realities of your marriage. By this I do not mean to complain about your spouse every opportunity you get to hang out with the guys or girls. And, I have had to ask for forgiveness from friends on more than one occasion for doing so myself. By this I mean, be transparent with others about the temptations you face in extending love, grace, trust, perseverance, hope to your spouse for the purpose of receiving encouragement, counsel, and prayer. As much as Lawrence and I continue to duke it out with each other, I do not know that we would even be married today a part from the community of friends, family and mentors who have cheered us on, prayed for us, cried with us, and kicked us in the proverbial pants when we needed it.
4. Figure out what marriage is really all about. Marriage, the covenantal union of a man and a woman, is to be a reflection of Christ and His Church. As was so well articulated by my pastor just this morning, "God does not grade a marriage on how satisfied the partners are or how long they stick it out. He grades a marriage on how well it reflects Christ and His church," which has everything to do with the Gospel. The good news of Jesus is that He, the perfect Son of God, took the punishment from God the Father that WE deserved upon Himself by dying on a cross. He died, was buried and rose again, conquering death and sin.
He offers us the choice to be reconciled to God, our Creator, by recognizing we do not live up to His standards of righteousness. We offend our Creator by not acknowledging Him or our need for Him. But, He offers us forgiveness and restoration of our relationship with Him by the confession of our need and His sufficiency. He offers us eternal life with Him rather than eternal death and separation from God by believing in His Son, Jesus.
And in marriage, in MY marriage I get to reflect Jesus' love and grace to me by extending love and grace to Lawrence over and over again. For another 12 years and 12 years after that, and 12 years after that we both hope and pray.