Yesterday was our 17th wedding anniversary.
No candlelit dinner. No spa day. No excursion to the exotic island of our choice. We’re not given to flights of romantic fancy very often, but even by our standards, it was low-key.
We found a sitter at the 11th hour and opted to go out for dinner, sans enfants. The restaurant was nice but not pricey. We used a coupon.
(Yes, I am my parents.)
Our conversation was decidedly prosaic. We didn’t reminisce about our wedding 17 years ago. We talked about a particular struggle one of our children is facing right now and how we can help. We talked about buying a piece of land, or maybe a new minivan, or maybe nothing. We talked about whether or not to grow our family, and the myth of spending “quality time” with our kids. Then we shared a Cannoli-Strawberry-Chocolate Cake gelato and went home to put the kids to bed.
It wasn’t until after midnight that I realized I hadn’t properly signified the occasion by uploading a picture or posting about it on social media.
For one stupid nanosecond, I felt guilty — as if our celebration of 17 years was in some way lessened because I didn’t post it to Facebook. Surely Scott deserves a little online bragging. Isn’t that something a loving wife should do?
And then I felt the urge to throat-punch myself.
One thing I know — 17 years in and counting — is that marriage isn’t all sweetheart selfies and Facebook flirtations. (And thank goodness, because Mr. I-get-on-Facebook-once-a-year would miss all of them.) Marriage isn’t just flowers and poetry. Marriage doesn’t subsist on sun-drenched beaches with umbrella drinks and six-pack abs. (Again… thank goodness.)
Certainly, there are some champagne-at-sunset moments, but the marital menu features its share of grime and sweat and salty tears, served for two.
In our image-conscious, Insta-driven world, it’s easy to crop out the painful and filter away the ordinary. But to hopscotch from one romantic summit to another — ignoring the valleys of hardship and the plateaus of the mundane that lie beneath — is to miss the blessing.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…
— Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV)
There are quiet seasons. There are sunny days when trouble seems unthinkable. There are seasons of storm and stress that harrow one’s soul. Marriage is all of these.
Marriage happens at 2:30 in the morning when he’s walking the hallways, interrogating anyone who might be an anesthesiologist because your epidural is two hours overdue.
Marriage is inside jokes that set you laughing until you can’t breathe, contrasted by heartbreaks that leave you crying until no tears are left. It’s yelling over the noise at the dinner table just so you can finish the conversation you started at dinner last night. It’s quiet Saturday nights at home with popcorn and a movie, because all that matters is being together.
Marriage happens in apologies and forgiveness that follow arguments over issues so pointless you won’t even recall them later, except to say: “Remember that fight? It was a doozy.”
Marriage happens in frigid hospital rooms, when you’re waiting for the staff to wheel you away for a life-altering surgery, and all you can do is exchange a helpless stare because words will just start you crying — and you’re trying to be strong for each other.
The Hollywood version tells us to “skip to the good part.” But if marriage is a highlights-only reel, it’s gonna be short. And also a lie.
… In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
— John 16:33 (NIV)
Instead of a polished highlight reel, I want real. Real love and sadness and joy and grace. Real life. Which doesn’t necessarily Instagram well.
Could we handle a few more sun-drenched beaches in the mix? Absolutely. And I might even Instagram them.
But when I look back to savor the past 17 years, my “highlights” are not all high. I see quiet, unobtrusive efforts to love each other daily. Failure and success of all shapes and sizes. Dark times when we were angry or frustrated or hopeless — and we held on to one another anyway. I see our days, stitched together into a whole much greater than the sum of its parts.
That’s when marriage happens. And the hard is what makes it great.