19 years ago, my dad walked me down the isle and I said “I Do” to forever. I had no idea what I was doing. My mind was full of 90’s wedding songs with lyrics like “From this moment, I have been blessed, I live only for your happiness” and movie quotes like “you complete me”. I was full of feelings that Ryan would meet all my needs and be my soul mate, that I would be complete and I could live only for his happiness. That lasted about 2 days into our honeymoon, before I found myself sitting on the slopes in Northern Michigan crying, while Ryan skiied down the hill away from me saying, “if you’re not even going to try to get up, figure it out yourself!” Live for his happiness when he was going to be a jerk like that? No way. And that was when real marriage began. It was the first hint that this thing was going to be way more than I bargained for.
A few years later I was sitting at a marriage conference called Love and Respect and the second day was spent talking about how marriage is more about my relationship with God than it is about my relationship with Ryan. Was I going to love Ryan, forgive Ryan, respect Ryan when he didn’t deserve it, simply because God calls me to do that? Was I going to take responsibility for my sinful actions toward him, when I felt like they were justified? Emerson Eggriches stood up there and said something like — when you stand before God, you cannot justify your sin by saying ‘he hurt me first or he hurt me worse.’ My whole world tilted on its axis because I had never before considered that marriage wasn’t about us being happy. It was the first inkling that maybe marriage was about us obeying God and loving when the other person is unlovely and forgiving when they don’t deserve to be forgiven and taking responsibility for ourselves regardless of feeling as if another person treated us unfairly. That day, everything changed. I began to see my marriage as a way that God was shaping my character. In addition to that, it made me look at Ryan differently when I was being selfish and controlling and he chose to forgive me and love me anyway. My respect for him in those moments grew by leaps and bounds.
I can’t tell you how much joy and peace and contentment and marital happiness comes when that perspective changes. Because love is hard, but God loved me while I was his enemy. Forgiveness is hard, but God has forgiven me of far more than I will ever forgive on earth. And God uses this marriage to teach me more than I ever imagined.
This is my favorite picture of Ryan and I, not because of how we look, but because of the back story. We had just been in a huge argument. I was being controlling and selfish and a bit manipulative and Ryan was having none of it. Two strong personalities. Fireworks began. Unfortunately, we had to get these pictures taken before we lost the light, so while we were still pretty upset with each other, the photo session began. In the midst of it, Ryan whispered something in my ear that was hilarious and my dear friend and photographer* caught this picture. To me, it’s symbolic of Ryan moving toward me and loving me and forgiving me even though I didn’t deserve it. It was the beginning of moving toward reconciliation.
19 years later, I love Ryan more than I could ever have imagined on that warm February day. I didn’t realize back then that my soul mate was God and that He and I were already complete, but that my husband would compliment that beautifully and be a joy and a delight that has been food for my soul. I realize now that I need to live for his happiness, to serve him and love him, because God has called me to consider the needs of others as more important than my own– but that I cannot do that without the power of the Holy Spirit living inside of me and giving me the strength to do something that’s not humanly possible. And now I see clearly what that long ago commitment meant. It was a vow that two broken, sinful people made to each other. A promise to obey God instead of pursue their own individual happiness…and through that comes real, true joy.
*Photo credit: Amy Peterson Photography, Clarkston Michigan