I’ll never forget years ago watching my little niece, then 3-years old, running down the the harbor dock in my hometown of Northport, Long Island, screaming out to a bride getting her picture taken, “Cinderella, Cinderella, Cinderella!”
As I reflect this week of my 20th wedding anniversary, I realize that marriage is far from finding a fairytale Prince Charming or fantasy partner to sweep us off our feet. For me it’s been a much better story – a story of entering through the doorway of intimacy into a new world of two, not one. It’s a story of journeying together on a long, long winding road (with plenty of hills, and bumps and curves), into the heart of Godly love – an uphill journey not for the weary hearted. This road we traveled for 20 years has been both hard and beautiful, a road of laughter, crying, fighting, stretching, forgiving, caring, building up, tearing down, letting go, holding close, cheering on, and best of all, at the heart of it all, serving one another with wholehearted selflessness.
It’s funny, the friend who forced me out the door the night I met my husband, called just last week after we had lost touch 17 years ago.
Back then, in search of romantic love, I dated far too many frogs in search of a prince, including Peter Pans and few Don Juans. When my fruitless love seeking plight became too painful, I finally took a year off from dating to ponder the true meaning of intimacy, vowing to love myself a whole lot better and only allowing someone to know my heart who’d do the same.
My friend knew my relationship fasting escalated to the point of isolation, and one night insisted I go out to a fundraising event.
Still not ready to venture out of my secure hiding place in a studio apartment on the bottom floor of an A-framed house perched on Mt. Tamalpais in Mill Valley, California, I resisted her invitation. After all, after spending a year content reading books, watching movies, and blissful hikes alone on Mount Tam’s winding trails to the crest of clay cliffs overlooking the Pacific, going to a party felt invasive, out of context, frightful even.
Yet my friend cajoled, persuaded, and finally forced me out the door. “You’re going to meet your husband tonight”, she said.
The fundraiser, a benefit for the World White Water Championships, organized by a mutual friend, was held at the Patagonia store on Union Street in San Francisco, an event I cared nothing about. After all, sporty, tanned, outdoorsy men weren’t my type.
Thinking back, God’s mighty breath was behind the scenes, wooshing me out that door that night, just as it happened years before when I quit a promising career at the Discovery Channel to move west.
“Why are you doing this?”, a successful owner of a video production company asked. “You have the world in your hands here.”
If I knew what I know now, I would have told him, “I’m going to learn what love is”.
My friend was right, I met my husband that night.
When I turned to leave — yes, believe it or not, just before the clock struck midnight– he was standing before me, just a haze of a person, more like a soul. I had seen him earlier, thinking he was handsome, unique, with a European flair, far from the outdoorsy type.
Few words were needed. We both loved dancing, we talked about dancing. I was taking jazz classes at the time. Then he asked for a ride home.
No stage coach turning into a pumpkin scenario, just a ride in my Toyota. We stopped first for pie and ice cream at a late night dessert place on Union Street, and talked and talked until the place closed at 2 am.
I felt a tiny shift in my heart those momentous hours, a knowing, a sweetness, a peak into into the doorway of intimacy. I wanted to know more about this person, who, with unabashed candor, told me in the car that I was beautiful in such a sweet way that I didn’t feel he was just another charmer, who to this day tells me so often that I’m beautiful. I wanted to know more about this man who listened with intent, studying me as if preparing to paint a portrait, watching and listening for nuances, details, emotional cues that would capture the whole of me.
We wanted to see each other again the next day — and the next, and again and again.
God is the umbrella under which we walk together on this journey, protected, guided, glued together in sacred love. We’ve learned over the years that true love means serving one another as Christ serves us — in a sense, it means laying our lives down for one another.
But it wasn’t like that early on. We had too many road blocks and carried too much baggage to freely serve one another well on the early road to intimacy. Our flaws, personality differences and unhealed childhood wounds rose to the surface like adolescent acne. Our temperaments in how we dealt with conflict clashed. Mine — feisty, confrontational, Italian-Irish infused –intimidated him. More familiar with a cheerio, let’s pretend everything is perfect –the British way that he learned from his darling, afternoon-cup-of-tea-drinking parents– he most often cowered, or we bucked heads.
But we kept at it. My husband likes to say, he stretched..stretches — making sure he works on changing troublesome patterns so he can better serve me. And I’ve learned, and continue to learn, to soften, to admit I’m wrong sometimes, to say I’m sorry, and to step out of the shadow of my own stubbornness.
When God finally came into our lives years later, the deepest work of pruning the dead branches of our relationship, the parts of us no longer working, started in earnest. Under the umbrella of God’s grace, the fruits of the spirit in our marriage flourished — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control — have become the stepping stones of our marriage. And when we stumble, and we do, we have God to guide our way.
This person I’m with for life brings me happiness, and with him, I have learned to love.
I read in the Old Testament that men who recently married couldn’t go to war the first year so they could spend that time making their wife happy. That sounds good and healthy, and about right. In healthy intimate relationships, we’re meant to make each other happy. Proverbs says a wife of nobel character is worth more than rubies, her husband has full confidence in her. She brings good not harm. She’s enterprising, serving her loved ones, creating a solid ground for them to live together.
Let us learn to love well.
Here are some gems we are given on this path, to hold dear, to remember, to practice until we get them right:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast,
it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does
not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects,
always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm
for love is as strong as death,
it’s jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire
like a might flame.
Many waters cannot quench love
Rivers cannot wash it away.
If one were to give all the wealth of his house for
love, it would be utterly scorned.
-Song of Songs 8:6
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