Marriage: A Story Shared
"You were so young." That's what most people say when they look at the wedding picture displayed in our living room. And we were young - twenty-three and twenty-two, in a culture where the average age for first marriages is 26.7 years. And to add to that, we had only known each other fourteen months and had never lived in the same state. In hindsight I wonder if, to some people, our wedding eight years ago today looked like it was headed for disaster - our reckless choices leading to that one moment when one of us would wake up wondering, "Who is this strange person I married? And why did I make this commitment?"
Not that we haven't asked that first question, but, thank God, it has not been disastrous. After several months of marriage, Justin told me that he had thought I would love going to rock concerts. (I don't - too much smoke and noise.) And I was disappointed that, on Saturday mornings, he wanted to stay in bed (amazing!) while I launched myself into the blissful, productive, freedom of the weekend.
But despite these unmet expectations, we're happy we married. We had plenty of confirmation from close friends and family and felt led by the Holy Spirit. We wanted to marry, not just because we loved each other (we did), but because we liked each other - a lot. In his blog, Jesus Creed, Scott McKnight makes a good and unique argument for marriage and against divorce. This argument is memory and story. When Scripture says, "The two shall become one," we can read it not only as a physical oneness, but as a joining of story: my story + Justin's story = our story.
One of the earlier stories we share, one whose telling has repeatedly encouraged our marriage, happened a few weeks before our wedding. When Justin went to his alma mater homecoming and didn't call me during the trip (despite the fact that he said he would), I was furious. Upon meeting him at the concourse in the airport, the first thing I said, before a kiss or hug or any romantic greeting, was, "You didn't call!" I remember saying it with a percussive tongue in an accusatory manner. He looked at me, wide-eyed and shocked. He'd forgotten, of course, and this was before cell phone ubiquity. Meanwhile, about ten feet away, another couple was greeting each other after some absence. The man was down on one knee with a little box, proposing. I hoped they didn't see us; we were no poster children for the romance of airports. Later, when relaying this story to my parents, my dad said, "You know the big ?C', right?" "Commitment?" asked my mother. "Call?" I accused. "Communication," Dad said. Through the past eight years, we've joked about the 3 C's - and how they can all help make a marriage good, especially when practiced in tandem.
Another story, one that's actually less of a story and more of a shared philosophy, began before we were married when Justin attended a lecture on marriage. In it, the professor passed out a green piece of paper with a title and three lines of dialogue. It looked something like this:
A Christian Wedding
Congregation: We'll try!
Minister: Lord, stand by.
What we found so significant about this was that, rather than focusing on the couple as the pinnacle of the wedding ceremony, the community and God were given equal space. Sure, after eight years, Justin and I have spent a lot of time alone - just us. We have not seen some of the folks who attended our wedding since the actual day, and right now there are only two people who were there who live in our city. But a wedding takes place within a community of believers. And our vows are not just our vows. They are also the vows of the community. We hold some responsibility for each other's marriages. And, after eight years, I am thankful for members of our community - my parents and siblings and several close friends, who have continued trying when I've reiterated my need for help.
I love that the first miracle recorded in the Gospel of John is the story of the wedding in Cana where Jesus changes the water into wine. When the master of the banquet tastes the wine, he comments to the bridegroom, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." Today I read this story as a metaphor for marriage in a culture where marriage is less about the community's responsibility and God's work and more about the actual wedding itself - the dress, the colors, the party. In our culture where youth, visual sensuality, and lustful romance are celebrated, a long-term marriage can start to seem archaic and boring. But, through the work of Christ, in our stories, long-term marriage can be ones where the better wine comes last, not first.
I'm well aware that eight years isn't long, and we're in for many unknowns to surprise and maybe scare us. But today, with eight years down and an unknown number until Justin and I are parted by death, I pray, "God, keep our story one. Give us strength to communicate even when we are tired or distracted. Help our community to support us in our covenant with one another and you. And give us the best wine last. In the name of Jesus, Amen."