I'm told that one of the most delightful members of our flock at Vintage Fellowship, while getting ready for this event, commented to his wife, "I don't really get why they are doing this. I mean, it's nice and all, but I don't know if I get it."
I confess, as my mind yawned to take in all the dear faces, the incredibly beautiful setting, the surprise of my parents being there....I wondered "Is this too much?"
I mean, we've hit a few rocky patches, but I have never thought a single time about hitting the "eject button." And I knew Robb hadn't either. I am just as committed to him as I was the day I stood at the back of the church with the veil draped over my face, praying, "Please, God, let me be a good wife." And here were all our friends, baking in the August heat, part of this enormous scheme (and there was so much I still didn't know); I couldn't help wondering, "Really?" I was perhaps most surprised that Robb wanted to do this, as I don't recall us ever talking about a vow renewal.
Eight years ago, we had just moved to Arkansas. Robb had finally step-stoned his way into a good-paying job in no way related to his Bible college and Seminary education. On his lunch break, he wandered down the curvy drive to St. Catherine's, eventually learning the story behind the beautiful stone chapel that seemed to have opened a dimension to another time and country. He made it a habit to go there on his lunch break as often as he could, nourishing his soul while learning to straddle the two worlds he now found himself part of as a bi-vocational pastor. Our marriage was being stretched at that time, still staggering under the weight of the house we couldn't sell in Michigan, finances all askew, fledgling church in near-constant upheaval, and three little ones needing plenty of attention. I blogged more faithfully back then. You can read all about it in the archives. He decided that someday, when we hit a big milestone, we would renew our vows there in that sacred space.
We reached the doors of the chapel, where Aaron stood waiting for us. I took a moment to appreciate the depth of the meaning of his being there. Maybe better than anyone else, Aaron could witness to the arc of our relationship. As Robb's best friend and roommate back in college, he had been there since the beginning. He was there during the breakups (oh, there was more than one!) He stood by as Robb's best man. He was the reason we had come to make our home in Arkansas. And because life and relationships are always complex, he and I have not always seen eye to eye. There have been some really broken moments...even years...between us. But they have been healed. With time and grace and love covering a multitude of (my) sins. There is no one else on earth I would rather have seen at the end of that aisle than Aaron.
Aaron's words guided us through a beautiful ceremony of celebration, reflection and recommitment. Each of our children shared precious words, showing us a glimpse of what our marriage provides them from their unique perspectives. We laughed. Gratitude for this rare glimpse into their hearts welled up and spilled out from our eyes. Our hearts felt like they might explode as they presented their authentic, brave, funny hearts to us all.
On the front row, Whimsy settled into a chair next to my parents and tooted with reverberations that left the people around her helpless with laughter.
Instead, Robb spoke new words. He summed me up: He said that I am an agent with a mission to make things better. Homes, churches, broken things. It's true that sometimes, to make something better, I have to blow it up. He reminded me of a thousand of our stories with those few words. And, knowing all this about me, He committed himself again with the words, "I am all in."
And then it was my turn. Like most people, I fear speaking in front of a crowd with no preparation. But I thought of a snippet of conversation we had had in the car, brought to the surface by a tune that was playing.
"You are the only person I ever met who could keep up with me." I'm dissatisfied with the inadequacy of those words, but I knew Robb knew what I meant. I've never had to make myself smaller to be with Robb. I've never had to slow down the growth of my soul or my mind to accommodate him. I've never had to do less of what intrigued me to babysit his comfort. If I said I wanted to learn something, he went out and got me the tools. If I was afraid of where a path might lead me, he reminded me that he believed in me. When I threw out smokescreens and deceptions to hide my insecurities, he called my bluffs and reminded me I was loved. He is the only one who knows exactly when to laugh at my tirades and when to take them seriously. He calls me on my bullshit, but does it so rarely, I always take it seriously. He knows the truth about me. What unhinges me. What pulls me back together. He holds all my secrets. How could I promise anything else to someone so generous but this: "I am all in, too."
We visited 1 Corinthians 13 with Aaron before reciting the traditional vows we had not used the first time around: Sickness, health, richer, poorer, forever. And we exchanged beautiful watches, a symbol of the time we have behind us and the time we have ahead.
My friend commented later that those words mean something so much more when you all know what they mean from real life experience. Real sickness. Real health. Real riches. Real poorness. Couples in the crowd held hands. Our questioning friend turned to his wife and conceded, "Ok. I get it. If you wanted to do something like this, that would ok with me."
One concept, more than anything else rose to the surface in my mind: I am so loved.
this impractical, hold-nothing-back, big, wild, reckless, unguarded, who-cares-what-anyone-else-thinks, just want to convince you beyond a shadow of a doubt in case you ever wonder...
this is what God's love is like.
Because no husband (or wife) could out-love God.
Our marriage from the beginning, has never been solely for our benefit. It was a "milestone in redemptive history" from the start. (see also). Robb and I have found comfort and shelter in one another; we have indeed healed each other's wounds. We are an unlikely match according to personality theories, but because God is in us, God is found in the way we love each other. This over-the-top display of love, orchestrated by my husband, executed by our dear friends and family, is also the way God is among us. You may not have this kind of love in a marriage, but this Love is trying to surprise you. It's in the beauty of the world. In the kindness of strangers. It's in the comfort of a friendship. It's in the surprise. It is in the party. God is love. I know this because of the way my husband loves me. And I'm trying to tell you.
You are so loved.
"If we go on
we'll shine our light upon
a world that badly needs to know
a human soul
can love another human soul." - Michael Card, Poiema
"And there's more..."