On Marriage and Learning as We Grow

I watched Trista and Ryan renew their vows Sunday night. Yes, that’s what I said. Let me go ahead and get the rationalizing and defensive arguments out of the way.

It’s true, while the rest of the country watched the Seahawks beat the 49ers, I watched Ryan give Trista an unreasonably large diamond anniversary ring to celebrate ten years of marriage even though the traditional material for ten years is tin. He may have modified it to diamonds because tin is lame. And I’m sure ABC and Neil Lane had nothing to do with that decision. I digress.

To paint the full picture, I did spend four hours with friends watching the Broncos and the Patriots in the afternoon, though when I say “watching” I mean I was in the room while other people watched. I ate carrot cake and played Spot It and had conversations about church with friends who were also only mildly interested in football. But still. It was a football event at which I was present.

11028257084_b0451077de_oWhen we came home, we put the kids to bed and John headed out to spend time with a friend. So I had the house and the Oreos to myself and flipped around our seven channels and there they were: Trista and Ryan, the first couple to get married after meeting on The Bachelorette, celebrating ten years and two children and a life together.

For a few minutes I put aside all I know and assume about the whole Bachelor franchise and paused to appreciate the simple fact that marriage between two people was being celebrated on TV – not just the marriage they were promising to have on their wedding day, but the marriage they were already working hard at for the past ten years.

Sometimes I avoid talking about my marriage here because (surprise!) I am a private person when it comes to such things. I know, I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words about my own personal faith journey here on this blog and in three books, but when it comes to John, I don’t know. I have wanted to keep him to myself. That’s one reason why I didn’t use his name for so many years here on the blog. Well that and my irrational fear of killers (since everyone knows a killer can’t get to you unless they know your husband’s first name…?)

But ever since we realized John’s time in youth ministry was coming to an end last year, I knew I was going to have to write a bit more freely about our experience as a couple in order to be able to effectively process this major life transition. I would be unable to write here anymore if I continued to keep him to myself, and not just him but our experience of life together.

And so I introduced you to John, my favorite unfolding story (to borrow the phrase from Ann Patchett).

I shared with you why he was quitting his job.

I was honest about how mystery is becoming our home.

Today we are not close to a milestone anniversary, unless twelve years and seven months is a special milestone.

It isn’t technically.

But it is practically.

11996634945_3c40349219_oBecause the only way we can get to the fifteenth or the twentieth or the sixtieth anniversaries is if we learn how to live thankfully, humbly, and respectfully in the midst of the twelfth year and seventh month.

What I thought I knew for sure about marriage before I got married has changed over these few years I’m sure it will continue to change for the rest of our lives.

I’m learning how our union is a gift, not just to the two of us, not just to our children, but also to those we encounter on a daily basis.

I’m learning to respect my feminine voice the way John does, to agree that God created us in his image, male and female.

I’m learning what it means to discover more of Christ as he comes out of John’s unique personality and I’m learning to trust the movement of Christ within me.

I’ve decided to stop feeling guilty about stupid things.

Instead of being overly nostalgic about times past or impatient about what is to come, I’m beginning to settle in to the different seasons of our lives together and to focus on what is important about that – not necessarily the particular season but the fact that we are together in it.

Sometimes we walk into a cloud of misunderstanding and so desperately miscommunicate that it’s caused the room to spin. On any given day, one or both of us may be distracted, selfish, thoughtless, or defensive. There have been tears. And silent treatments. But we always come back to forgiveness. Eventually.

marriageWhen it comes to the daily rhythms of our life, to connecting with one another in meaningful ways, to forgiving when we have been hurt, and learning to relate with grace, we cling to John 15, knowing Christ is our home; we stand firm in Galatians 2:20, believing He lives within us; we hold fast to Colossians 1, accepting Jesus as the image of the invisible God, agreeing that He is the beginning who comes first and holds all things together.

Even us.

Especially us.


  1. says

    Thank you for sharing with us. My wife and I always find ways to celebrate us, from our half year anniversary to dating anniversaries. They are all a reminder of the small steps that help us get to the large anniversaries.

    Marriage is difficult, but through my wife God has challenged me and helped me grow closer to him and to her. Together we are stronger than either of us separately. It is something that God is teaching me everyday.

    I look forward to the day when we are the last people standing at the wedding dance of a grand child as the oldest married couple. (We have been married 6 years and 7 months.)

  2. says

    Wonderful thoughts on marriage, Emily. I particularly love the truth that your marriage is a gift–to you, your children, and others who know you (from near and far, I’m sure). So good. I also resonate with your comment about how our understanding of what marriage is meant to be is constantly changing. I had no idea when I married 14 years ago how much I had to learn about love. How much marriage would and could change me–as long as I am open to the growth. I wrote in my most recent blog post about those times when my 12-year-old self and Peter’s 12-year-old self surface and try to get along. :)

  3. says

    I think we need to celebrate the years and the growth and the progress. We are also at 12 years and 5 months. We are not the same people we were when we got married. But, I trust we are more like Christ. We have grown together. We are more of a unit than 2 people. And I am so grateful.
    I am glad when you share glimpses. It is hard. I don’t write much about my relationship either. I think I am looking for the best way to be discrete while vulnerable.

  4. says

    Sometimes celebration of the every day gets lost when you’re not a newlywed, or hitting a milestone. Thank you for the beautiful words describing how lovely it is to move along the journey.

  5. says

    Thanks so much! I savored every word. I have a hard time writing about my hubby too. It’s so close to my heart. It’s hard to put that out there for everyone to see. Don’t write about my kids much either for the same reason. Family is too precious. I’m trying to share more “close to home” but still so hard. I write about life in God’s Presence and one of my kids is having some amazing experiences with God–they are sacred treasures. We’ll see! Maybe God is stirring my heart to find a way?!

  6. says

    I love reading about other people’s marriages, and absolutely hate writing about my own. With almost 18 years under my belt, it might be time to start?!

  7. Kathi says

    Thank you, Emily. I particularly needed to read Colossians 1 today! My husband of 25 years (next week) and I have gone through quite a few years now of his struggle with career. A former pastor, then working with severely emotionally disturbed youth, he had been unemployed for a couple years, and we just made a big out of state move to his new job in a new career as a hospital chaplain. Sooo much growth over these hard years as we fell to our knees day after day before our God, surrendering our lives to His will. Not what either of us pictured as we walked down the aisle, but we are full of joy now in the way Jesus walked through the journey of a thousand miles with us and in where He has led. We are closer to each other and to God now, and my prayer is that we maintain that in the “normal” life we get now!

  8. says

    Friends of mine used to gather to celebrate their milestone birthdays (the “ohs” — 3-0 or 4-0). One became ill and nearly missed the next one. Now they celebrate every year because they’ve recognized that each day is a gift. I’ve begun to think that way about marriage as well — partly because my father died when I was nine and my parents didn’t get to celebrate as many anniversaries as they wanted. So, happy twelve years and seven months to you and John. Thanks for your words today!

  9. says

    Wait a second, that fear of killers is irrational? Darn. I have some work to do. :) This is beautiful insight, Emily. We need to encourage one another in marriage, to realize we’re not alone in our imperfections. Blessings to you and John and your family today.

  10. says

    Lovely! And just to encourage you, from 40 years 1 month, year 12 was the hardest and to stand at 12 years 7 months and know the reality of your marriage is bigger than any big number milestone. Congratulations! : )

  11. says

    Your words always seem to nestle into my soul. May none more so than when you speak of Love, Marriage, and the precious commitments of a man to a woman and a woman to a man. Lovely, so lovely Emily. As always, but in a different sort of candor and transparency today. :)

  12. says

    And when all else fails, my husband (of 12 years) reminds me to read Ephesians 5! haha
    I like to remind him that there’s a lot more “message” for him than for me in there.

  13. says

    Love your writing, Emily! You had me laughing out loud with the “killer can’t find you unless they know your husband’s name” statement. But seriously look forward to reading what you share and write and inspire. Thank you!

  14. says

    So thankful for a glimpse into yours and John’s life-together-ness. Some of the things you said highlighted to me ways in which I’m thankful for my own marriage.

    This, in particular: “Instead of being overly nostalgic about times past or impatient about what is to come, I’m beginning to settle in to the different seasons of our lives together and to focus on what is important about that – not necessarily the particular season but the fact that we are together in it.”

    Love you and so thankful for you and John, together.

  15. says

    I love this oh so much for all the usual reasons why I love your writing – but the timing… well – Thank You. We are entering a new season and in all our talking and praying about God-Sized Dreams and how He whispered that we needed to open it up a bit more, my husband decided we should teach on marriage. Um, yeah – that’s a great idea! Let’s do that (and just watch the attack unfold!) My response? Why don’t we teach on parenthood too – because we have ONE so – ya know – clearly, we can! God is stretching me to trust Him and to talk more about how things work for us and while we are not experts on marriage (or parenthood!) in general, we’ve made ourselves experts in OUR marriage/family – and that has made a huge difference! LOVE getting a glimpse in… and oh that adorable picture!

  16. says

    Thank you so much for your beautiful post! I really appreciate your vulnerability and willingness to open up about an area that is personal to you. My husband and I have been married five years and some days I feel like we are barely starting to figure this whole thing out. It is encouraging to hear from those who are a bit further along this marriage journey. Thank you for the reminder that there is also opportunity for growth and that being together and working on your relationship is what matters.

  17. says

    This is so lovely. I love the idea of TV celebrating a marriage instead of a wedding (or, instead of the dissolution of a marriage).
    I’ve also grown in and through my marriage and it is so exciting and comforting at the same time.

  18. says

    After a trying day for me and my husband – a mix of stress, exhaustion and a few other emotions – I especially appreciated your comment that it always comes back to forgiveness eventually. We have found that to be very true. Some moments of forgiveness happen almost immediately, while others may take a few hours or even a few days. But I am consistently grateful that we recognize the need to ask for forgiveness and the need to give it.

    Thank you for the encouragement!

  19. Laurie says

    Thanks for so beautifully sharing your heart on marriage. I love that a popular TV show celebrated a 10th wedding anniversary/renewal vows! We are celebrating our 12th too. A marriage full of His grace and kindness really is a gift to all who come across your path… it shines brightly in this dark world. I love the wonderful verses you chose.

  20. says

    So good. I’ve been ruminating on my own marriage for the past 3 days. And I didn’t even KNOW they were renewing their vows! (I so would have watched. I mean, IF I had ABC, which is a whole other story.)

    I’m just so thankful for this person I married, so thankful he keeps keeping me.

    Thanks for all these reminders.

  21. Elizabeth says

    Thank you for the reminder to be content in the season we are in. I am often doing exactly what you said…looking at the past or wishing for the future. These were great words for me today.

  22. says

    I’m hoping it’s true that revealing our husband’s first names won’t necessarily attract killers since I just did this on my blog too. It’s funny how we get more comfortable with transparency after feeling support from others and exercising our voice. Just yesterday I posted something I never thought I would. I shared the Scripture that contributes to our longevity. Thanks for sharing some of yours. This is the first time I’ve commented, but read your blog faithfully and have been pleased to give your Million Little Ways book to my most valued friends. Your work and words are lovely. It’s about time I let you know. Blessings….

  23. Lori says

    Kind of refreshing that what started as cameras and glamour (The Bachelor) has settled into what God always uses: two hearts and His hands. I love your quiet encouragement, Emily, as you use your gift to speak into so many lives. We celebrated thirty years last month— after all the years of kids and ministry life and rainy days and sunny weeks—-we LOVE to be together. As my high school students would say, for real for real, he is God’s best gift to me.

  24. says

    This is so well written. We definitely do need to learn to enjoy the moments we’re in. We also need to treasure what we are doing in the here in now together to make our marriages and lives grow and thrive.

    Although, I have always talked freely about my family online, I can understand wanting to keep him to yourself. There are times when I regret sharing details about our life so freely, but in the same token if I want you to know who I am I feel you have to hear about all of it. So, I’m really glad you’ve opened up and have shared more with us.

  25. Meagan V says

    Did you know that it is a Dutch tradition to have a big celebration at the 12 1/2 anniversary. You’re one month over, but it’s never too late to celebrate!

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