Twenty-nine years ago we embarked on a honeymoon we've been trying to forget for—oh, about 29 years. A friend named “Bob” offered us his beach house outfitted for people in ministry who lacked money. We qualified. Our first two nights were spent in a blissful state at a luxury hotel. Then, with piggy bank barely jangling we hastened in our 1972 Mercury Comet to the “beach house,” a term I use very loosely.
Had there been a brochure, it would have read thus: “Conveniently located just steps from the outhouse, this is the ideal train lover's paradise and a favourite haunt of bear watchers and researchers from the Poison Sumac Institute. If you happen to be in the outhouse when the train thunders past (every half-hour), your prayer life will be deepened. Beware of three-legged tables, protruding mattress springs and snakes—particularly the rattling kind. The beach is located in a northeasterly direction, though you will never find it. What were you thinking coming here?”
What happened next I am not proud of and it comforts me to know that readers will keep this in strictest confidence: We argued. We fought over things both related and unrelated to our circumstances. We stood in the rain and uttered unkind words. Some of them true. Yes, I drove too fast. Not only had I forgotten my toothbrush, I was too cheap to buy a new one. When a black bear climbed aboard our picnic table, we retreated to the car and argued. “I'll just go sit with the bear,” I threatened. Someone in the car said, “Go ahead.”
What happened next I am even less proud of: I pointed the Comet toward my mother-in-law's house. I wish I were making this up.
Though Mom loves us dearly she had not anticipated our arrival so had only single beds. Which was fine. Ramona was not remotely interested in sharing a room with me. Nor a bed or a toothbrush. The second night I discovered a phrase that has saved my marriage more than any other: “I'm sorry, Babe. I can do better.” And I found that single beds could be pushed together, though you run the risk of losing one of you in the night.
On this our 29th anniversary, we've been reflecting on the words theologian Rod Stewart sings, “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.”
Here are a few things we know now.
- I don't eat garlic unless she does.
- When I'm lost she lets me drive around, remaining silent when I stop and ask for directions.
- I don't compare her soup to my mother's.
- Four years into our marriage we ceased trying to fix each other.
- When I do compare soups, I say, “I'm sorry. I will try to never do it again. How can I make it up to you?”
- If selfishness and criticism vamoose, love and joy can enter.
- Laugh lots. Even when she says, “You want breakfast in bed? Sleep in the kitchen.”
- We don't let the sun go down on our wrath. We stay up and fight.
- At least once a year we lie on our back and watch the stars (lately we've had more trouble getting up).
- Whether I need to or not, every four to six years I buy underwear in bulk.
- We've loved our marriage enough to protect it, believing God's laws are for our joy, not our misery.
- Most nights I read her a book. One of mine! What a blessing!
- When we worry about the kids or the cheque book we remind each other that worry is like cracks in our home's foundation.
- Every day we pray our favourite prayers together: “Help!” And “Thanks!”
- We dance together. Even if our children are around and make gagging noises.
- Together we have cruised the Nile, toured remotest Africa, strolled the heathered glens of Scotland, and walked in the footprints of Jesus—all through books.
- We look for the good in each other and find it.
- She doesn't show me bills until I've eaten.
- We enjoy lasting friendships with couples who share our values.
- We view debt as a four-letter word. Divorce too.
- She golfs with me. Or at least drives the cart.
- I shop with her. But bring a book.
- Sometimes we play oldies music from our dating days.
- She encourages me to hang with the guys.
- She says she likes me better with less hair (she lies).
- Every single day I can't believe she married me.
- Last Christmas she gave me a GPS without saying a word (I now have a woman in my car telling me where to go).
- We're learning to celebrate and emulate God's grace. It's not so much where we start out but where we end up that counts.
- Sometimes I tighten jars. That way she needs me.
Someone asked where I'll take her for our 30th. “Bob” claims he's renovated that beach house with indoor plumbing. I shall try to remember to bring my toothbrush.