***Yes, the title of this post was lifted from the lyrics of a Tupac song, may he rest in peace. (Or enjoy the Bahamas, whichever you choose to believe.)***
Fourteen years ago tomorrow–which in my head feels like a lifetime–I walked down the aisle of a baptist church and married a young man.
I was a young girl.
I wore a wedding gown and clutched a bouquet of flowers and semi-listened to our pastor as he performed the ceremony.
I smiled at friends and family watching us (a few of them probably placing bets as to how many days, weeks, or months this would last).
My groom sang to me. Our baby boy was the symbol of a unity candle.
It was beautiful, people later said.
It was beautiful. We were beautiful.
We were also dumb.
So. Very. Dumb.
But what engaged couple isn’t?
What fools make vows to honor, obey, cherish, and love, through sickness and in health…
til death do us part…
at twenty-one years old?
Who even makes those vows at thirty or forty? Who promises a Heavenly Creator they’ll stand by only one person for the rest of their lives, fully aware of how long that might be?
It’s a mystery, marriage. A symbol of hope, of a bright future.
I pictured a future where Clayford and I lived a perfect, peaceful bliss. We would move into one home and stay there forever, enjoying a huge kitchen, a well-manicured lawn, two adoring kids, a fluffy dog.
We’d host celebrations, and make our own traditions, and fill our home with love and laughter and good food and nice smelling potpourri. We’d occasionally visit family and never miss church on Sundays. We would live the American Dream.
My husband and children would plug up all the holes left over from a broken childhood.
My children would never know that kind of pain. They would never see fighting or anger or hurt. They would never experience disappointment. I would shield them from any harm that might threaten their perfect existence.
Oh how I wish it had unfolded that way.
Even in the best of circumstances, marriage…family…they’re tough rows to hoe.
And we didn’t marry under the best of circumstances.
Far from it.
All those hopes–of the house, the Sunday church-going, the American Dream, the kids healing my opened wounds.
None of it happened the way I’d planned.
Oh, we’ve had a house. About three of them, actually. And a dozen apartments, too.
We’ve moved churches quite a few times because we can’t agree on a denomination. We can barely agree on the same version of God.
My kids have filled zero wounds. Zero. On the contrary, they’ve opened a thousand I never knew I had.
And traditions? The two of us never discussed that part of marriage. I wasn’t aware of the expectation to simply accept his, and he wasn’t aware that, as a wife and mother, I’d want to start my own.
But that’s marriage, right? Full of expectations. And conforming.
You bury some of your own dreams, either out of necessity, or failure, or sacrifice.
Long ago, marriage was indeed a sacrifice. A social and financial obligation. Love rarely came into play.
I see no changes. In many ways, marriage is still an obligation. Even if nowadays we marry for love, paying bills and raising kids will squash those mushy feelings real quick.
Back then–and even now–when the giddiness over your spouse ran cold, you found your happiness in other places: kids, friends or family of origin, career, hobby, church.
But you did not divorce.
Divorce was so not the norm, many of us later discovered a few of the long-haul marriages we grew up around endured such discord, one or both spouses sought happiness in the arms of other lovers.
Or the wife drank herself to oblivion daily just to survive.
Or the father never got over his first love/coworker/family nanny, and, now that the kids have grown, he’s leaving his wife of 45 years to be with her.
Yes, marriage is a tough row to hoe.
Even in stable marriages, it’s still possible to decide that, after many years together, one of you might be longing for something more. Weary from the road you’ve traveled. Or just plain fed up.
There are good times, sure. But so often these are the times we forget, not because they aren’t wonderful, beautiful memories, but because they are so expected, so common, we fail to see how miraculous they really are.
The birth of your children. Their first words, first steps, first day of school.
The time you purchased your very first home. Together. Without any help from mom and dad.
When the two of you knew exactly what to do that time your son gashed his head wide open. Even you were surprised by how calm you had remained.
Or the many, many school programs, ceremonies, ballgames, and dinner table stories you sat through. You laughed and you cried at those little faces and smiles.
The job promotions. The career changes.
The afternoons you cheered on your favorite team with your wife or sat with your extended family and thanked God for another year.
The ordinary days in a life and a marriage that are so hard to see because of the pain that often accompanies them.
The times your spouse or children let you down.
When you lost that job.
Or you lost a loved one.
And you’re not so sure you can carry on.
If you aren’t careful, you discover that intoxicating little pill called bitterness.
Satan’s drug of choice. The pill that says, “This life, this marriage, didn’t turn out the way I wanted. And I hate you for it.”
It comes from the private pain only the two of you know. The kinds of family, financial, and marital struggles that most, if not all, of us go through at some point or another. The burdens and mistakes and failures. The parts of yourself you can’t change.
Any person who has been married longer than a year knows it’s not the good times, but the hard, that make or break a marriage.
You ask yourself if you can stay married another day, let alone another year.
I wish I could say that you will.
But I don’t know. That’s a brutally honest statement. We live in a fallen world, and I don’t believe marriages always last.
And I believe that’s okay. The Grace of God lies as much in failure as it does in success. Maybe even more.
I believe sometimes you have to find your peace and walk away. And sometimes, it’s the other person who decides this, and you have to accept life as it is. You have to know you’ve done all you can do.
It’s a long and difficult journey, this thing we call marriage. This road called life.
Still, I see no changes.
Peaks and valleys. Those have been ever present throughout fourteen years of my marriage. And especially in the hard years (like, say, the last fourteen), I’ve been so tempted to throw in the towel.
But every once in awhile–maybe when the two of us are sitting at either end of the dinner table listening to our babies’ highs and lows; or when our chairs are deep in the sand and we’re enjoying a cold beverage and watching the sunset over the shore while they splash in the ocean; or alone on a date as my husband gently takes my hand and looks me in the eyes and tells me I’m beautiful (probably because it’s the first time I’ve worn real clothes in days)–I see that young bride who stood before that young man.
And I remember.
All those dreams. All those plans.
And I’m filled with Hope.