After one of our relaxing days of vacation, Shawn was very insistent that we have a date night while his Mom kept an eye on the kids after we put them to sleep. I heartily agreed and set about getting ready. I was surprised to find Shawn hurrying me along, practically pushing me out the door. Instead of driving to the restaurant we’d talked about trying, Shawn started driving to the beach. I’m not particularly good with directions, so I didn’t notice until we were parking the car and Shawn said, “I thought we’d see if we could catch the sunset before we head to dinner.”
As we walked along the boardwalk towards the ocean, I noticed Shawn’s Dad sitting on one of the porch swings. Thinking he had decided to take a walk himself, I headed over to say hello and chat a minute.
“We were just heading down to the ocean,” Shawn said. “Want to join us?”
As his Dad stood up to walk with us, I noticed he was holding a single sunflower. “Look at you!” I exclaimed, “Gettin’ your wife a flower!” We got down to the beach, took off our shoes, and stood in the wet sand. Shawn handed me the flower his Dad had been carrying and then stood across from me – holding both of my hands.
[These photos were actually taken the next day, but I wanted some kind of photo of that beautiful sunflower]
This year hasn’t been an easy one for us. Don’t get me wrong – we’re good and happily married – but God has done a lot of refining in our marriage and in us individually. And dang it if that Refiner’s fire doesn’t sometimes hurt like heck.
So we stood before one another on the beach as Shawn’s Dad (who officiated our wedding six years ago) read our original vows. My mind flashed to six years ago when I heard those same words. I was a bright eyed twenty-three year old who had no idea what marriage really entails. I was head over heels in love and felt certain that would carry us through the tough times. I had no idea the journey we’d take. I didn’t know that six years would bring us a move to Texas and two adorable boys. I didn’t have a clue how much Shawn and I would be capable of hurting one another – both in our actions, our inactions, and our words. I didn’t know the depths to which I’d come to respect and even admire him. I couldn’t fathom the moments in our marriage when I’ve been weak, vulnerable, scared, and Shawn has wrapped his strong arms around me and let me soak his shoulder with my tears. I didn’t realize that allowing yourself to be completely vulnerable to someone also meant risking being hurt more than I could have imagined. I had no idea how much we would have to forgive the other for, and I had no idea how much joy, strength, and growth I would derive from the institution of marriage.
People do a lot of changing in six years. People do a lot of talking. A lot of laughing. A lot of crying. A lot of hurting. A lot of kissing. A lot of experiencing.
I stood before Shawn – a bright eyed twenty-nine year old – and looked into his eyes. Those eyes have always made my heart skip a beat in the eight years we’ve been together, but I realized that I could see something in those eyes. I saw our experiences together, our tears, his vulnerabilities, his fears, his mistakes, his triumphs, his sense of humor. I saw his soul. And I saw something else. I saw myself.
When I wore that white dress and walked down that aisle to Shawn, we were two very separate people. As I felt the waves gently washing over my feet and saw the skyline darkening, I realized that when I looked at Shawn’s soul, I saw myself. And when I looked into the deepest recesses of my heart, I saw Shawn’s face everywhere.
So with a wiser understanding of the work and joy that is marriage, we renewed our vows. We promised to love one another – knowing that we will not always be lovely. We promised to cherish one another – knowing that life’s daily tasks will distract us into taking the other for granted. We promised to honor one another – knowing that humbling ourselves doesn’t come easily or naturally. We promised to forgive the other – knowing the depth of pains to be forgiven, and we promised to protect one another – knowing our marriage would be a stake if we didn’t.
In our vows, I remember Shawn’s Dad reading, “May you always live in wonder and amazement, feeling that out of all the world…you’ve chosen me.”
I don’t for the life of me know why Shawn chose me. But that day – on that beach – we renewed that commitment to choose each other. Every year, every month, every week, every day, every moment. To love the other more than we love ourselves, to serve and submit like Christ and His church, to forsake anything that threatens or competes for our affections, and to choose the other over and over again.
For better. For worse. For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health. To love. And to cherish.