Today is my parent’s twenty-first anniversary. I can’t even begin to describe how much I love these people. I was raised by the two best parents on earth. And while it’s definitely not out of my character at all to be sentimental, I spent some time reflecting recently on what I’ve learned from my parents’ marriage. I knew a guy in high school who liked to talk about relationships and what they should look like. And I remember being kind of amazed at what his idea of what a perfect marriage looked like, and how different it was than the beauty and harmony I saw reflected in my own parent’s relationship. Mom and Dad, you’re far from perfect, but I hope I have a marriage half as imperfectly lovely as yours.
Here are just a few of the things that my parents have taught me about marriage.
Always marry the man who makes you feel truly loved.
My mom and I have had so many conversations about this. Because neither of my parents came to Christ until I was a kid, they didn’t really have any rules or requirements for a spouse. They basically just lived for the moment. Spent their time with whoever was the best looking or funniest or most convenient. But my mom still gets a special smile on her face when she talks about meeting my dad. He fell in love with her right away. He was absolutely smitten, and she wouldn’t give him the time of day. So he kept finding ways to be around her. Showing up at her work just to chat. Inviting her out with friends. Making her laugh. By the time they finally go together, she already knew how important she was to him. She was a special treasure that he cherished. And even though there wasn’t the slightest hint of Christ in their lives at that time, I can still see it now, in an even more radiant and special way. My dad treasures my mom, and she is more than thankful for him in return. “He’s was the first ever truly nice guy I dated,” my mom still says. “I knew I was going to marry him right away. There was no one else who made me feel that way.”
Put Christ at the center of everything.
The only reason why my parents have had such a wonderful marriage is because God was leading them through it. I remember having friends with divorced parents and broken families when I was a kid, and lying in bed crying about the possibility that something might happen to my parents. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to understand how silly that is. My parents don’t view marriage as a flex arrangement or a preference to stay together. They are committed to each other. Committed to stick out the petty arguments. Committed to put away the jealousy. Committed to apologize for the thoughtless words. But above all that, they’re committed to surrendering their lives to God and allowing Him to lead their marriage. My dad bought this t-shirt when I was a kid that says, “Loved the wedding. Invite me to the marriage. – God.” I don’t even think God needed an invitation into my parent’s marriage. He didn’t need to be asked or considered on an invite list. From the day they were saved, I have never seen them to anything but extend their arms to Him for grace, wisdom, and the best kind of love.
It’s okay to have inside jokes and don’t feel bad about keeping them a secret.
My parents love to joke about the “B.C.” days (“Before Children”). Oh, I’m sure their lives were crazy and fun-filled and fantastic. They can look at each other and burst into laughing about the most mundane little thing. “Wow, horseback riding. Remember that time…” “Oh, yeah, on the beach!” “And they gave you…” “And I was still scared!” “But you rode it anyway!” And by now they are red-faced with laughter and I’m sitting there with absolutely no idea what they are talking about or what exactly my mother rode on that beach. But I like it that way. My parents have their own secret language of “Doug and Carrie jokes” and “Billy Flippo stories” and each one washes them anew with memories and special connections. They’re the electric wires that shoot between them, connecting their thoughts privately and sending warm messages.
All good parents should kiss in front of their kids. Sometimes.
It grossed me out so much when I was little. Not gonna lie. It still weirds me out to see my parents kiss. But it makes me happier now than I remember being when I was a kid. Happy because my mom can still give my dad a big kiss in the kitchen and they can still blink at me like they’ve been caught or something when I wander in from the next room. (“Oh yeah, guys. Didn’t know you did that.”) But I’m secretly thankful because it reminds me that they care. That, at the end of the day, my mom is still going to kiss my dad. They’re still going to be in love because that’s the kind of people they are.
Husbands should never yell at their wives.
I have never, never, ever heard my dad yell at my mom. Ever. And I know this probably has more to do with my dad’s personality than an actual marriage counseling tip, but it taught me something valuable. Women should marry men who respect them enough not to yell. It’s okay to get “a tone” sometimes. It’s okay to be frustrated, or to even have to go into another room for a while to cool down and regroup. I’ve seen my dad do both those things and both are okay! But I love the fact that I can’t think back to a single time when my dad let his anger over something interfere with his respect for his wife.
Going gray together is a beautiful thing.
My mom has never dyed her hair. Which is amazing since she has the most beautiful dark hair in the world, and the tiny silver specks in it just make it look sleek and shimmery. I don’t know if I’ll have her luck or if I’ll start going grey when I’m twenty. But whatever the case, I love that my parents went gray together. It makes me laugh when I hear my dad grumbling about how he doesn’t want my mom to dye her hair and start looking like a trophy wife. I smile when my mom makes it clear that if dad thinks she looks good with silver streaks, then she’s okay with it too. My parents are amazingly attractive to me, salt-and-pepper qualities and all.
And finally, always put your spouse before your children.
I know my parents love me. I know that they would cross oceans, sacrifice all their possessions, and lay down their lives for me. But I know that they love each other anymore. That’s what I am. I’m the result of the overspilling of my parent’s love for each other. I’m a visual reminder of the fact that God has blessed the love of my mom and dad. That’s what makes it okay when my mom gives the last serving of potatoes to my dad. That’s why it’s fine that the first person my dad wants to see when he walks in the door is my mom. That’s why it doesn’t bother me to know that they have secrets I don’t know about. That there are things between them that I’ll never have any part in. It’s okay because that’s what marriage demands. Marriage demands a special, unique, incomparable type of love between a man and his wife. One day, hopefully, I’ll be able to experience that too!
Mom and Dad, thank you for the commitment you made twenty-one years ago to make it through this life together. I don’t know what you’ve faced in those seven thousand days, but I know that it’s going to be worth it. I know that as long as you continue to seek God together, your love will just keep getting stronger. I know that throughout all the mistakes you make and apologies you fumble through, you’ll keep getting wiser. And I know that with every sacrifice you lay down and with every humble way you serve each other, you will keep growing more and more like Christ.
Happy Anniversary, you two. Know that you’re setting my standards high.