Sixteen Years After I Said, “I Do”, Here’s What I’ve Learned.
A Touchpoint True Story About Being Married
On this day sixteen years ago, my wife and I got married. The ceremony was held at Rehoboth Baptist Church in Tucker, Georgia, and roughly 11 billion people attended. The service itself was too long, our limo got stuck in traffic on the way to pick us up, and we were so emotionally drained after everything was over that we spent most of our honeymoon floating in a pool in Mexico.
I didn’t know what I was getting into at the time, and neither did Rachel. That’s the thing about marriage — you really don’t know what you’re doing. You sort of stumble into it with good intentions and big dreams only to discover that it ain’t as easy as it seems.
That’s the first lesson of marriage: there’s a learning curve. There’s the obvious stuff, like learning about their personal habits, their idiosyncrasies and unconfessed secrets. But there’s the stuff that isn’t so obvious, like learning how to love the other person.
Not just be in love with them, not just say you love them, but truly, deeply love them. To help them or counsel them, to give them courage and hope and a shoulder to cry on when they need it. These are big things, and sometimes they come at a price to you. But that’s okay.
Because to love someone unconditionally is to open yourself up to being hurt. I’ve done things that hurt Rachel, and she’s done things that hurt me. Some were heat of the moment things and some we didn’t even realize we did, but after every hurt, we circled back around and talked about it. Sometimes, that led to deeper pain.
But it always resulted in our loving one another more, because out of that hurt came two things: an awareness and a desire to do better.
Unconditional love excises selfishness from your soul. It puts someone else in pride of place, which means you have to learn to sublimate your ego. It can be things as simple as changing your eating habits to include actual vegetables, or as difficult as giving yourself the freedom to laugh at life.
Rachel has taught me to take risks, to bet on myself, to trust God when He calls for a leap of faith. I’ve taught her to like comic book movies and given her permission to hone her sense of humor.
So, yeah. It’s a push.
I’ve learned complacency is the enemy of relationships. We are not the same people we were on June 16, 2001. A lot of things have flowed under and over the bridge, and we’ve done stuff we didn’t want to do, but we’ve also paid attention to the ever-changing tides and made the decision to try and get ahead of life whenever possible.
That often puts us at odds with some of the folks we care about, but we’ve learned to navigate those times. It’s never easy, but we know we have to keep growing, keep stretching, keep reaching for that greater something we know God is drawing us toward.
Another lesson I’ve learned is that you don’t grow without resistance. If nothing is pushing back on you, you don’t develop strength. In 16 years we’ve changed homes, changed jobs, and changed our theology; we’ve birthed and buried a daughter; we’ve birthed and are raising a daughter and a son. I know that’s just the way life goes for all of us, but when you’re also constantly trying to grow and change and mature, it wears on you a bit. You start to wonder if you aren’t better off coasting instead.
You start to wonder if maybe you’re the problem. That’s what the voices in my head keep telling me — that our insistence on growing and changing and living life better is our choice, and we have to answer for the consequences. Meanwhile, our faith tells us that growth is the outflow of faith, and the momentary consequences are nothing compared to the bigger picture.
It makes things tough sometimes. Somedays I wake up tired for no reason whatsoever; it’s only then that I realize the mileage we’re putting on our souls, miles that will make us better, stronger people in the long run.
That’s why laughter is so important to us — we’ve learned to laugh at life’s absurdities. To spend time with us is to spend time unleashing a chuckle or two.
We’ve learned to laugh by watching our children, by listening to their observations, and by getting on the floor and being kids with them for a while. We’ve learned that fart jokes are incessantly funny, that strange voices add light to any situation, and that a well-timed sardonic observation can turn a moment into a memory.
It’s part of who we are, and while we laugh together as much as we can, we’re also learning not to laugh at one another. Giggles should build, not destroy.
And maybe that’s really the biggest lesson I’ve learned: marriage is about building one another, becoming stronger and wiser together. It took me a long time to realize I had more than a spouse, I had a partner. And a damn fine partner at that.
Sixteen years of marriage, and there’s no other person on the planet that I love more than Rachel. I see her in the faces of our children, I hear her in my head when I’m thinking my way through a situation, and she’s the person I want to spend time with every single day.
We celebrated earlier in the week while our kids were on a trip with my parents, and even after 16 years I still learned new things about her. Sitting across the table from her, I saw her beauty, her strength, her humility and grace, and I thought:
I am a blessed man.
For sixteen years, and God-willing, for sixty more.